“One way to read the injunction for Right Conduct, an essential part of the Eightfold Path, is to see it as calling us—as citizens—to translate the dharma into specific acts of social responsibility.” - Buddhist author and professor, Charles Johnson, writing in the Tricycle magazine.
But what is mindfulness? Technically, it is the nonjudgmental observation of the present moment, no matter what that moment may entail, and it is arguably the paramount Buddhist instruction. The essence of mindfulness, though, is simply “paying attention," the natural byproduct of which is heightened compassion and consideration of the impact of one's actions on others. Some real-world examples of mindful behavior might include: pausing to think before habitually reacting; choosing to recycle, rather than to litter; or choosing to eat humanely raised chicken, rather than broiler chicken from a factory farm. Put another way, mindful behavior is behavior that is socially responsible.
Internal mindfulness (or “internal social responsibility”), on the other hand, would refer to employee well-being. If a company is being internally socially responsible, it is paying attention to the way it treats its own people. Does it pay an adequate wage? Does it give its employees reasonable maternity and paternity leave? Or, is the corporation mindful of the impact of the job on the individual? The most well-known example of a company taking internal social responsibility seriously (though not referring to it as such) is Google. Famous for its napping pods, yoga classes and community gardens, the company even offers a class on the practice of mindfulness itself. “Search Inside Yourself,” as the course is called (pun intended, I imagine), is one of the company’s most popular offerings. (Perhaps this wasn’t so far off, after all.)
We could therefore call a company “360-Degree Socially Responsible” if it is mindful of the way it treats both its own employees as well as the larger, external world. Yet, companies rarely -- if ever -- use sustainability or CSR language to talk about (what I’m referring to as) their internal social responsibility efforts. Why does a company’s CSR or sustainability report not have a section on employee satisfaction or a company's wellness programs? To behave mindfully is really to act socially responsible, and from a corporate standpoint the 360-degree view ought to concern both those within the company's walls as well as those without.
The point isn’t to redirect the focus of CSR/sustainability from how companies are warming the planet and abusing human rights to how they are are overworking their employees and ignoring the very clear data about happiness and productivity. Rather, it is to stress that any external CSR program without a corresponding internal dimension -- and vice versa -- is an exercise in hypocrisy.
While it would be great if more companies followed Google’s lead and literally offered training in mindfulness practices, the real point is that CSR is about more than just whether a company is moving toward renewable energy and considering its impact on local communities. It is just as much about how companies treat their own, and without this 360-degree approach, businesses are really only going part of the way.
Trained as a lawyer, I now focus on legal business development, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and business & human rights. My past experience includes work on complex commercial litigation, international human rights advocacy, education policy, pro bono legal representation, and analysis of CSR challenges in both the private and public sectors.