Tag: corporate responsibility

During the presidential campaign, Joe Biden said the idea that corporations only exist to deliver profits to shareholders is “an absolute farce.” Companies also have a responsibility to their workers and the country. Is the debate over “corporate purpose” heading toward a change when Biden takes office?

Taking a stand against a divisive president’s most extreme policies has been an easy way for companies to demonstrate their values. But could the bar for corporate responsibility soon get higher?

We asked Stuart Bunderson, director of WashU Olin’s Bauer Leadership Center and George & Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics & Governance, and Jackson Nickerson, Frahm Family Professor of Organization & Strategy Emeritus, to weigh in.

Stuart Bunderson

Stuart Bunderson

Pressure to adopt a social purpose and to consider the welfare of all stakeholders is influenced more by key opinion leaders in the business community than by who is in the White House, Bunderson said.

“In recent years—years when Trump has been in the White House—we have seen seismic shifts in the conversation around business social responsibility, driven by business community A-listers like the Business Roundtable, Larry Fink/Black Rock and The World Economic Forum,” he said.

“That conversation is what has been driving change, and the trajectory and momentum of that conversation seems unlikely to be affected by who is in the White House.

“In fact, a starting premise within that movement is that business has to step in not because we have morally flawed leaders in government but because government has shown itself incapable of addressing major problems in our society due to partisan gridlock. 

Under this view, business leaders have a responsibility to help solve broader societal problems because if they don’t, nobody will, he said.

“Although it would be great if Biden’s election signaled a new era in bipartisan collaboration on urgent social problems, early signs have not been encouraging. So I wouldn’t expect a change in the White House to lessen the growing conviction that businesses can and should step in where government is failing.”

Business leaders eager to score points will no longer have Trump as a punching bag for a cheap PR win. 

“But most business leaders are savvy enough to know that cheap PR wins are cheap and that a reputation for social responsibility is established not through a leader’s public comments on presidential actions but by developing a track record of socially responsible action.”

Jackson Nickerson

Jackson Nickerson
Jackson Nickerson

“The federal government has been in a political tit-for-tat stalemate for decades and, as a result, has failed to respond to the fact that the American dream is now unattainable for most Americans. This failure means that the government has not adjusted its policies and come up with a new social contract for America,” Nickerson said.

“Without a new social contract, Americans increasingly appeal to the only wealthy organizations that can tackle policy problems: corporations. The fact that we’re seeing growing appeals to corporations is simply an indicator of increasingly failed politics, which largely is driven by political parties to drive fundraising and control policy.”

The widening economic gap, the climate crisis and healthcare crisis are just some of the political problems that corporations are being asked to solve, Nickerson said.

To maintain legitimacy, it’s in corporations’ best interest to respond to these demands for socially responsible actions. However, corporations have failed to recognize they also have a role—and perhaps even an obligation—to influence Congress to function properly, he said. A properly functioning government is also in business’ best interest.

“Businesses want to know the rules of the game so they can make strategic investments. They are less willing to make these investments if the rules keep changing,” he said. “And, frankly, the irony is if we don’t change the fundraising incentives of the political parties, which drive wedge issues and lead to nationalizing every congressional election, our public policies will continue to vacillate as party control of the federal government keeps switching back and forth.” 

For instance, he said, the party in power provides healthcare, the other party when it comes to power later tries to take healthcare away. One party raises taxes and the other party later lowers taxes.

“Such policy vacillation is not like treading water. Instead, it causes the American dream to sink further for more Americans and reduces corporate America’s willingness to make strategic investments for growth.  With lower economic growth comes further difficulty in creating a new social contract and leads to even greater demands for corporations to increase their expenditures in social responsibility. This downward spiral is a classic vicious circle”

“Once business realizes it has deep economic as well social interests in a well-functioning Congress, they will see opportunities to pressure political parties and influence government to come together and solve real problems for the American public,” Nickerson said.

Until corporate America flexes its muscles and we collectively change the way our political system functions, then demands on firms to engage in corporate social responsibility will only increase—regardless of who is in office, he said.

Sara Savat, senior news director for WashU’s Office of Public Affairs, interviewed Jackson Nickerson for this blog post.

To say I was inspired by those around me at the Net Impact Conference would be an understatement. Graduate and undergraduate students from around the globe gathered to learn, network, and arm themselves with tools to strengthen and grow their Net Impact chapters.

“We should be inspired by people…who show that human beings can be kind, brave, generous, beautiful, strong- even in the most difficult circumstances.”

The Career Expo buzzed as students and employers met to discuss careers focused on impact work and companies who invested capital and energy into making an impact within their firms and their communities.

The Co-Founder of #BlackLivesMatter illustrated how the challenges we face cannot be solved alone. We need to engage one another. Senior leadership from major corporations like Toyota, Walmart, and Campbell’s explained their 10-year plans on a variety of challenges and then discussed how those goals would affect our world. To hear from the change-makers themselves is powerful enough to send chills down your spine.

etsy-quotesHowever, my most poignant realization at the conference came when I realized who surrounded me in the audience. In particular, those sitting within my row. Of course everyone at the Net Impact Conference had the passion, energy, and ability to make communities stronger and the world a better place. But some of the biggest heroes in my life are the ones that I see on the frontlines every day, working to continue shaping the Olin Business School, the Washington University community, and the city of St. Louis.

As I listened to some of the keynote speakers deliver their messages, I can assure you there is no denying they have a gift for communication. But I see that same gift in my fellow classmates who joined me for the Net Impact Conference. It was an honor to attend the NI Conference on behalf of Olin and WashU; but it was even more of an honor to sit with my fellow classmates, who I know are the change-makers in the ‘now’; not the “change-makers of tomorrow”—a moniker often given to millennials.

I submit that my classmates are making this community and world a better place. Maybe they do not have the megaphone to bring to light what they are doing. Or maybe they do not have the traction or manpower necessary to create a revolution. But I know they will prove me right as they continue on their missions.

Heather Reinhardt, MBA’17, is a former Walmart intern who introduced CEO Doug McMillon prior to his remarks at the 2016 Net Impact Conference in Philadelphia. At the event, McMillon outlined a series of commitments that will benefit customers and communities – learn more about his speech here.

About Net Impact:

Net Impact is a global community of students and professionals who aspire to be effective drivers of social and environmental change. Visit www.netimpact.org.

Join us for the Impact Investing Symposium hosted at Olin Business School on April 1. A free event, open to the public – speakers from around the nation, opportunities to question, probe, and inform oneself of the nascent impact investing field.

Check-in begins at 8:30 am with coffee and pastries.

Keynote speaker, Gloria Nelund, CEO of TriLinc Global, will take the stage at 9:00 am.

A panel moderated by Martin Myers of pePartners and breakout sessions with the panelists will follow.

Light lunch and networking will close the event activities.

To register (and for more details), click here.

See you Friday.

“Bringing people together for a better world,” is an overarching goal for Anheuser-Busch InBev, according to Rainer Meyrer, the company’s Global Director, Beer & Better World.  Meyrer was a guest speaker in Prof. Martin Sneider’s MGT 529 class, Management and Corporate Responsibility.

While there are many definitions of a better world, Meyrer spoke about AB InBev’s three pillars of what many would call corporate social responsibility:

  • Responsible Drinking
  • Environment
  • Community

The main goal in each of the areas is problem reduction, and as a company, AB InBev believes it has a responsibility, as people and citizens, to participate in making a better world.

Educating people across the globe about designated drivers, water conservation, agricultural development, and watershed protection are just a few of the projects Meyrer explored with the class.

He also was clear that AB InBev is not the solution to all problems, but can certainly be part of the solution.

Watch video about AB Inbev’s Better World corporate responsibility initiatives here.

Two first year MBA students, Katie Miller and Alex McDonnell, spent their Saturday morning planting seedlings for Missouri Forest ReLeaf. 

Forest ReLeaf is an organization that was founded 20 years ago in an effort to raise awareness of the need for trees within cities and to inspire local volunteers to plant more trees in their communities.

Katie and Alex pause for the camera while helping pot 2,000 seedlings on a recent Saturday.

On Saturday, Katie and Alex helped a volunteer group to plant over 2,000 seedlings in St. Louis!  It is great to see the commitment of our MBA students to the St. Louis community!

Katie Miller serves as the President of the Olin chapter of NetImpact.  NetImpact is an student organization that encourages and teaches business students the importance of  sustainability, corporate responsibility, and social entrepreneurship.


Click here to learn more about Missouri Forest ReLeaf or Olin NetImpact.