Building a Better World

In a world of Wal-Mart pricing and warehouse shopping, do consumers care about anything other than the cost of products and services? Do they consider the policies or practices of organizations producing those goods?

Believe me, I can be pretty frugal, even downright cheap, but I boycott some companies whose practices I don’t agree with or who, in my opinion, have badly mishandled crises—it doesn’t matter how low their prices are.

I’m not alone. A 1999 survey, Environics International’s Millennium Poll on Corporate Social Responsibility (www.mori.com/polls/1999/millpoll.shtml), showed 40% of the 25,000 respondents worldwide had considered “punishing” a company (not purchasing its products or services) based on their perception of it. One in five respondents actually avoided such a company’s products or shared a negative perception of it with others.

U.S. consumers were among the most likely in the survey to say the role of businesses is not just to make profits and create jobs; it is also to build a better society. More than three-fourths of U.S. respondents said they hold companies at least partially responsible for avoiding bribery or corruption, keeping operations and supply chains free of child labor, preventing discrimination and protecting the enviroment and worker health and safety.

This view is what most would call social responsibility: a “company’s obligation to be sensitive to the needs of all of its stakeholders in its business operations,” according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org).

ASQ’s fourth futures study, conducted last year, showed the value of any product, service or business will include how well it sustains the triple bottom line: financial, societal and environmental results (see the January issue of QP, p. 37). That’s one reason ASQ is administering the U.S. technical advisory group (TAG) for a new social responsibility standard being developed by the International Organization for Standardization (see p. 35 of this issue).

To support the TAG launch, the Society surveyed about 100 managers from Fortune 500 companies. While 90% said corporate social responsibility programs are important to the future of the U.S. economy, 40% don’t have a policy in place or plan to implement one.

What about your organization? Does it at least practice ethics management? If not, or you think its ethics program could be stronger, see p. 25 to find out how quality can and should be the foundation for sound ethics.

At the very least, you can make sure all this starts at home by knowing and following ASQ’s code of ethics (www.asq.org/about-asq/who-we-are/ethics.html). Among the fundamental principles it requires of members and certification holders is “using their knowledge and skill for theenhancement of human welfare.” If that’s not social responsibility, I don’t know what is.

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