Defining Corporate Citizenship

How much of a role should business play in tackling global questions such as climate change, unemployment, restoring trust in the aftermath of the financial crisis and distributing international aid?  What is the nature and extent of the private sector’s responsibility in resolving these issues? At what point should corporations step alongside government and help shoulder some of the burden?  These questions, which go to the very heart of defining corporate citizenship and corporate social responsibility, are some of the issues that will be discussed at the Economist’s 2010 Corporate Citizenship Conference kicking off this week.  In light of the financial crisis, this year’s convocation will rightfully explore restoring trust and increasing transparency in the financial markets and job creation, in addition to balance in international aid and post-Copenhagen strategies for moving forward.

The conference line-up features a veritable who’s who of big names in sustainability and leading thinkers from the public sector including: Diana Taylor managing director of Wolfensohn & Co. and former president of the World Bank; US Department of Labor deputy secretary Seth Harris; Loews Hotels chairman and CEO Jonathan M. Tisch; and Steve Case, co-founder of America Online and chairman and CEO of Revolution. A highlight will be a conversation with President Bill Clinton who will likely provide an update on the Clinton Global Initiative.

One of the can’t-miss panels will explore morals and the role of corporate citizenship.  It pairs executives from Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble with Dr. Chris MacDonald, ethicist from St. Mary’s University and author of The Business Ethics Blog, and Robert A.G. Monks, principal of Lens Governance Advisors.  A shareholder activist and one of the founders of the field of corporate governance, Monks maintains that corporations now are so powerful they threaten both democracy and capitalism itself.

Another presenter I can’t wait to hear is Dr. Walter E. Massey, chairman of Bank of America, which received a $138 billion rescue package in January 2009.  It will be revealing to hear him discuss that and BoA’s recently-announced $150 million settlement with the SEC for failing to disclose extraordinary financial losses at Merrill Lynch prior to a shareholder vote to approve a merger between the two companies. The court determined that the bank failed to adequately disclose bonuses and losses, but that it was unclear whether the lack of disclosure resulted from negligence or intentional fraud.

These in-depth panel discussions will be interspersed with briefer “moments of insight” from leading thinkers such as Jeffrey Hollender, chief inspired protagonist and co-founder of Seventh Generation; Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s; Scott Griffith, chairman and CEO of Zipcar; and Charles Best, founder of

I will be writing from the conference starting next Monday and I invite your comments on what looks to be a stimulating agenda.  When it comes to balancing the roles of business and government, everyone has an opinion. We’d like to hear yours.

Cindy Mehallow is principal of CRM Communications, a woman-owned sustainability communications consulting practice specializing in corporate social responsibility reporting and stakeholder communications. GRI-Certified in sustainability reporting, Cindy has produced award-winning sustainability reports for Fortune 500 clients in a variety of industries.

4 responses

  1. I can't agree more with the author of the article I recently listened to found by SE saying that in analyzing business's desired role in society, it is best to think of the corporation as citizen.
    One of the obligations of corporate citizenship—as is the case for private citizens with means—is to provide philanthropic support for important “social goods” where neither the market nor the government do an adequate job. Indeed, corporate citizenship is a much better concept for evaluating business's activities in society than the much narrow and somewhat misleading phrase “corporate social responsibility.”

  2. Corporate social responsibility (CSR), also known as the corporate conscience, corporate citizenship, corporate responsibility and sustainable responsible business (SRB), or social performance of companies [1] is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. Ideally, the CSR policy that would serve as a built-in, self-regulatory mechanism by which companies monitor and secure their support for the law, ethics and international standards. Consequently, companies that embrace the responsibility for the impact of their activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, interest groups and all other members of the public sphere. On the other hand, companies focused on CSR proactively to promote public interest in community growth and foster development, and voluntarily eliminate practices that harm the public sphere, regardless of legality. Essentially, CSR is the deliberate inclusion of public interest in corporate decision making, and implementation of a triple bottom line: the benefit of people.

Leave a Reply