What is socially responsible? | Made in Germany | DW | 24.12.2013
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Made in Germany

What is socially responsible?

What is socially responsible policy and how does it benefit companies? We discuss these topics with Gerd Placke from the Bertelsmann Foundation in Gütersloh.

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DW: There are great examples of companies taking social responsibilities seriously - would you say they are the exception in today's corporate world?

Gerd Placke: No, they’re not the exception. Almost every company is aware of this. And they know the advantages of being integral in business cases, so everyone is keen to be good in business, you may say.

Right, but the definition of what it means to be good in business varies from company to company. Now here in Germany, for example, a lot of companies seem to believe in "doing good and making it known," but then again, for them corporate social responsibility is identical with social expenditure - followed by other donations and staff leave. Taking on a work-life balance philosophy seems far from their minds. So in your words, what is corporate social responsibility?

In my view, it would better to see it from a non-monetary angle. It is very easy for companies to spend money, but it’s much more complicated to do something with your employees in the social sphere. So why not do a corporate volunteering event for your team so that they can learn something about the stakeholders in the social area of your company.

OK, that’s a nice idea, but what would be the incentive for a company to do that?

This is HR, so the resources, the employees, will think in another way about the surroundings of your company. So this is very important for you to learn something about your customers, about the people who surround you.

But what is in it for the company? Now, most companies, and there’s no shame in saying it, they need to make a profit - it’s all about earning money. So taking on corporate social responsibility for a company - there has to be something below the bottom line as well.

Yes, the nice thing about that is that it helps to learn something and to be more adaptive toward the customer. To be innovative is something that helps to have more success.

Now talking of the customer - the customer obviously can also to a certain extent dictate how a company functions. We’ve seen too many disasters like collapsed factories in Bangladesh with a high death toll. And for a while it seemed that customers were very aware and stayed away from these shops that were known to produce there. How long does that memory last?

Not very long. People are very conservative. So people can do much more, to be more adaptive, too…

Like what? What can they do?

Yes, you don’t need to go by car to the bakery when it’s just around the corner. You can go on foot. So we all have to change. And it helps to be more aware of what you’re doing from day to day. And so CSR is a topic for customers, too.

Interview: Monica Jones