Vote Google 2020: Should Corporate Responsibility Become Corporate Governance?
Arc 1: History of CSR
I’d like to start with the arc on current CSR initiatives, since this sets the stage well for thinking about what companies are currently doing and where they could go. By doing that first, I could keep current CSR initiatives in my mind as I go through the rest of my research, so I will have more time to think of new ideas and things to explore. Arc 2 will probably be a deep dive into the tech industry and what problems arise from its rise. Then I could explore what aspects of the tech industry could be utilized to create mutually beneficial CSR initiatives.
The most compelling aspects of my research are the propositions of what tech companies could do. Since the emergence of powerful tech companies is fairly recent, there hasn’t been much done in terms of exploring how CSR should change for them, so it’s exciting to be exploring this topic.
I am adding the angle of how to make CSR initiatives mutually beneficial, so that companies will actually be more successful in doing them, to oppose what some argue is a paradox: companies are profit-driven, so they shouldn’t or won’t do anything that reduces profits. By making CSR profitable, it will remove this supposed paradox, as well as encourage more companies to pursue it.
I will organize my project by these concepts: history of corporations, emergence of CSR in manufacturing, rise of the tech sector, CSR in tech, future CSR initiatives for tech companies
I was most intrigued by the text “What Does Corporate Social Responsibility Mean for the Technology Sector?” as it described concrete ways tech companies could leverage their power and innovation to help solve society’s problems. It connects to other articles that focus on only problems of environment and labor, as these are issues of the manufacturing industry, and although these are important issues, we should prioritize the issues that arise from technology, such as inequality and gentrification. I’d like to explore what other problems the tech industry causes, and what ways it can fix these problems.
Arc 1: History of CSR
· History of corporations
· Purpose of CSR and emergence
· Manufacturing forms of CSR
· Timeline of corporate power
· Definition of CSR, does the definition change?
· Emergence of manufacturing CSR
· Social movements that spurred a change in the manufacturing industry, how these social movements came to be
· What the current forms of CSR are in different industries, how these CSR initiatives came to be
· Current CSR goals, what do they hope to achieve? Better brand image? Are they just out of the goodness of the company’s heart? Do they align with the company’s mission statements? Do they increase profit margins?
· CSR goals in tech specifically, how did these CSR initiatives emerge? Just borne out of the manufacturing industry?
· How, if at all, has CSR changed in the brief history of the tech industry? Was CSR always present? Why? Because tech companies tend to be more liberal and educated? What effect has CSR had on the tech industry?
· Corporations were originally profit-driven, but have the trend of becoming more socially conscious, can they fully evolve to be social enterprises?
· CSR emerged out of social movements, environmental awareness, labor rights, what other social movements may spur further changes?
· Current CSR initiatives are based on manufacturing problems, how can we get them to shift to solve problems caused by technology? And can they solve problems they don’t directly cause? Could doing so benefit themselves?
· What are the biggest issues caused by tech companies? What are the biggest problems in our society? How should we prioritize these issues?
Ideas and Significance:
· Corporations in technology have more power than ever before, in terms of generating a lot of wealth, political influence, social media/celebrity presence of key members (eg Elon Musk, Zuckerberg)
· How can this power be utilized for good? What will happen if it is not utilized for good?
· With big power comes big problems, issue of privacy (our data being shared without our consent), huge increase in inequality (big CEOs earning larger share of income), gentrification around tech areas (also Airbnb driving up rent, Uber causing taxi drivers to lose jobs, etc)
· Should corporations utilize their power to have more of a governance role in our everyday lives? Should they fund education, infrastructure, initiatives to reduce inequality, protection against threats? What are the pros and cons, for both them and for us?
· What is the distinction between a social enterprise and corporate social responsibility, how much can they merge onto one another, where is the ideal on that spectrum for a company to be? What are the pros and cons of each? Should different types of companies be at different places on the spectrum?
· Should we return to policies limiting corporate power instead? Can we trust companies to do good with the power they have or should we return to governance rules that reduce corporate power or place limits on it? How powerful should we allow a company to get, and how do we define power (money, cultural influence, clout)?
Arc 2: Causes of CSR
Arc 2: Political, social, and economic climates that caused (primarily manufacturing) CSR initiatives in the past, and how they differ in today’s tech-dominant society.
· How are politics, economics, and society different today then they were in the past?
· How is the dominance of tech companies different from the dominance of manufacturing companies? In terms of structure, goals, and impact. What caused/is causing those differences?
· What are the big social issues of today? How did they emerge? What, if anything, should corporations do about them? Are corporations to blame for these social issues?
· Social issues and social movements of today, what have the most impact and traction, what’s the climate like
· Historically, what have been the “checks and balances” between government, corporations, and citizens? Has that changed with this new tech power?
· Issues to consider:
o The digital divide, access to technology, access to opportunity, discrimination based on race, gender, or not being able to afford college (pay to play)
o Needing connections to succeed, a big concept today, nepotism, creating an elite society?
· Merging of the rich, powerful, and celebrities
o Elon Musk becoming a celebrity, very popular and well-known
o Trump, businessman (albeit a poor one) becoming president, also represents anger of working-class, perhaps due to the wage inequality
· The power of money, corporations and leaders of corporations have a larger share of income than before, can fund many things, good or bad
· Corporate governance or corporate citizenship- should corporations intervene in social issues, or should they not have the power to do so? Should the government increase restrictions on corporations?
o Should corporations instead just be good citizens, work on solving only the issues they create?
o But issues today are multidimensional, hard to untangle and solve from other issues, how can they solve inequality? Can change wage inequality, but then might lose good corporate leaders.
o How to change gentrification? A lot of times, corporations exacerbating existing issues, to what extent should they fix it then? How to calculate their impact?
· Brand image, brand value, marketing very important in this day and age, social media and the internet allows people to look up a company and choose whether to support it/buy its products
o Big change since the manufacturing industry?
· CSR initiatives usually arise from public pressure, what are the specific factors that cause it to arise? How can we get companies to do good? What incentives must be in place?
· What in society caused CSR to emerge in the first place? What things had to be in place?
· As corporations become more and more powerful, we assume they should be more responsible for their actions
· What should the distinctions be between corporations, citizens, and the government? Should corporations act as a sort of government, providing public goods and services? Or should it act more as a responsible citizen, obeying restrictions placed on it and reducing the damage it causes, environmental, social, economic, and otherwise? How can a line be drawn? Or where on the spectrum should it be?
· A lot of the effects of tech companies are hidden. Manufacturing directly causes pollution and sometimes labor abuse. Tech companies have some overt effects, such as an increasing income inequality, but also a lot of more subtle effects, such as creating an elite society where you have to know people in power and go to an expensive school to get the highest jobs, gentrification around these areas, making many jobs obsolete so making it harder to predict what jobs will still exist by the time you start studying for it
o Computer science is an ever-growing field, very profitable to get a major in, but not everyone has access to computers, so not everyone can learn it. The digital divide shows here, widening the opportunity gap
Ideas and Significance:
· Are tech companies to blame for the social issues that arise? Focusing especially on inequality, gentrification, what role do they play in these issues, and what responsibility should they have to mitigate them?
· Is simply having a lot of power enough of a reason to make a company responsible?
· How were these tech companies able to amass such power? Some issues before were monopolies, labor issues, but today it seems that just all the money is going to tech companies, yet the very well-compensated programmers benefit from it
o Should there be more taxes on companies or some other restriction to limit their power? Or should we instead allow them to govern themselves and our society?
o Are programmers being paid the natural market value of their work, or is it overinflated? Will natural causes reduce it, and/or should it be reduced?
Arc 3: The effects of huge tech corporations on our society
· How much power and influence do these corporations have on our lives?
· What impact has these corporations had on our lives?
· What problems arise with this consolidation of power? What have been the effects, good or bad or somewhere in between?”
· What are companies currently doing with the great power they have? Are they using it to their own advantage? What CSR or philanthropic initiatives are already in place?
· How much power these companies have in terms of political and social sway, what their net worth is. How does money correspond with power in social, economic, and political influence of these companies?
· How do people feel about these companies? Nowadays, people have a sort of affection towards some companies, as if they’re people. They also have a hatred towards others. What determines how people feel towards these companies?
· What have been the impacts that are the direct or indirect effect of corporations? How, if at all, can these impacts be measured or quantified? What complex relationships exist between corporations and civilians?
· In the past, government has worked to break up monopolies, corporations with too much power, why have they not done that today? Would it cause a public uproar? Are these tech companies gaining power and profit in a fair way, while before companies did so in an unfair way?
o What restrictions are currently on companies?
· What are companies doing, deliberately and unintentionally, to change the US or world?
· Are any companies abusing their power?
· What are companies required to do in terms of mitigating negative impacts they have? What environmental and social restrictions are in place (as remnants of the manufacturing industry’s power), and what, if any, restrictions are in place for problems caused specifically by the tech sector?
· What CSR initiatives are currently in place by different companies? What motivated these companies to have CSR initiatives? What effect have these initiatives had?
· How corporations have influenced the economy, politics, the social sector
· In what ways people interact with companies, how people feel about them, what determines how people feel about them
o Is a company liked or disliked because of the social good it does? Is it because of marketing tactics? Is it somewhat random?
· How people’s relationships and conceptions of businesses have changed, and the reasons there has been change
· The impact of the growing power of the corporate sector
o Do the social initiatives these companies push outweigh the costs of their negative effects?
o Can corporations be more effective at creating positive social change than government in some cases?
o Should corporations have the power to create change or should they be limited?
· Should there be more restrictions to break up corporations’ power? New policies to reflect this drastic change in power structure? How do we analyze and create new policy for such a radically different corporate power structure?
Ideas and Significance:
· With this new era of corporate power, should we play by new rules? Even inadvertently, corporations can worsen societal problems such as inequality because of how highly valued their services are, allowing them to pay workers increasingly high salaries
· Are these jobs really worth the extremely high salaries they pay? Is that fair and conductive to growth, or does it just create a inequality gap that represses most of our workforce, allowing only kids of the rich who can afford the best education and opportunities to find success
· Should corporations have the power and influence that they do, or should we find some way to limit it? In what ways, if any, should power be limited? Should the pay higher taxes, with a certain amount going to fix societal problems they contribute to? Should they not be allowed to grow past a certain point and not be allowed a monopoly on the market? Is it possible for such laws to be enforced?
· What current CSR initiatives are in place, and which are working? How can we even measure effects of CSR initiatives, as many issues are multifaceted and cannot be easily measured? What CSR initiatives should be replicated and expanded upon? Are these CSR initiatives profitable, in the short and long term? What does it take to implement them?
How can we make doing good sustainable for businesses and our society? How can we mitigate and reverse the damage done to the environment, if at all? How can we address labor law issues, inequality, gentrification, and other world problems?
Arc 4: What new CSR initiatives should tech companies undertake?
· Define the issues tech companies should be tackling,
o Inequality and gentrification
· How tech companies should address these issues, both in terms of best utilizing its great influential power and the creativity of its employees
· How these CSR initiatives can benefit the tech companies themselves
o Improved marketing, brand image
o Employees tend to be educated and liberal, perhaps more inclined to work at companies that do good
o A more productive economy will make everyone better off
· How to assess the impacts tech companies make
o Issues are multifaceted and difficult to quantify
· What are the negative impacts of the tech industry? Any big issues besides inequality and gentrification?
· How are tech companies currently addressing these issues? Can these strategies by adopted by other companies?
o Is the way these tech companies are helping mitigate these issues unique to their company? How do their CSR initiatives interact with their business and mission?
· How do companies decide which CSR initiatives to implement?
· What strategies are economists, social activists, and business leaders suggesting be implemented in terms of CSR in the tech industry? What are the pros and cons of these strategies?
o How effective do they seem to be? How realistic do they seem to be?
· How can strategies differ to best align with different businesses, so that the CSR initiatives are mutually beneficial?
· What non-profit organizations or other organizations are working with tech businesses to make them more sustainable?
A non-profit aimed at reducing inequality and gentrification through tech firm leadership: https://techequitycollaborative.org/
The Rise of Tech Workers as a Political Force for Good
· rents increasing in SF because of tech companies moving in
· Uber moved into Oakland, residents felt despair, company moving thousands of high paying jobs into an economically depressed inner city, and people would not want them to come, when before would’ve celebrated
o Internet thought to drive democracy, yet also causes this inequality and displacement
o Most people in the industry want it to be contributing to broad based growth and opportunity, not inequality and displacement
o But also, housing crisis in California is decades in the making, Bay Area has only produced 57% of the housing we need to keep up with growth
· Tech isn’t at the table, working to help solve these issues, even though people in the industry want to
· Tech employees protesting Trump presidency, and “you can’t protest these issues on a national level if you’re ignoring them in your own backyard”
· Tech Equity Collaborative is focusing on issues of housing, workforce development, and access to technology, doing it through campaigns (for funding of anti-displacement and homelessness prevention services), events & awareness-raising, and volunteer opportunities (training members to be non-profit board members)
· Corporations have worked with the government to improve the public sector, as tech corporations often have more advanced technology
o Should this be expanded upon, or do we need to draw a line for limiting the power of corporations and protecting the privacy of people?
· How can corporations help solve the issues they cause? For example, gentrification is caused by companies moving into areas, and employees following. However, corporations generally don’t hire out of these areas, so rents increase and residents are forced out. How can companies fix this problem they seem to directly cause?
o Contracts with government to subsidize low-income housing? How can this benefit the companies too? Or should it just be law?
· Tech companies are good at collecting and analyzing data, how can this skill set be used?
o How to best allocate funds to help mitigate inequality?
· Investment in the education of nearby schools, what impact does this have?
· What is the projected growth of the tech industry?
Idea and Significance:
· Tech company is growing rapidly, and already has a huge impact on society, both good and bad
o Technology is democratizing in a way, power of the internet, yet can also lead to issues such as inequality, with those in tech industry paid extremely high
· Issue of digital divide, part of population cut off from the potential to go into this booming industry, what can we do about it
· Tech companies have perhaps unprecedented power, what should they do with it? They can make a huge positive impact, and doing so now would set that in place for future generations
· Alternatively, should the power of the tech industry be limited? Should they not be given this much influence?
· Politically, tech tends to lean left, while older financial institutions centralized in New York often lean more right, what effect does this have?
o For one, tech employees more likely to support CSR
· Tech companies have unique skills, great creativity, and apply data and programming to almost every problem now, how can they apply these capabilities to improving society?