Corporate social responsibility & all that.

It appears that David Crowther, professor of CSR (corporate social responsibility) at Leicester business school, is claiming that the teaching of CSR and business ethics has been commonplace in business schools over the last 10 years – well before the banking meltdown and that this financial crisis “was based on the behaviour of people who went to business schools 15 to 20 years ago, in the time of Thatcherism and Reaganism, when greed was good”. We don’t teach like that now – it’s changed,” he rather piously asserts.

It’s exactly the kind of defense you’d expect a business school professor to put up when asked, in this case by Adam James for the education section of The Guardian, whether the business schools shoulder any of the responsibility for sending into the world graduates of their once prestigious courses who went on to play a major part in wrecking the world economy. There is a bit of the “not me guv- that was my predecessor” about all this.

Some academics are angry at what they say is a failure by business schools to reflect sufficiently deeply on a corporate risk-taking culture and regulatory failure. “There has been absolutely no fundamental rethinking of the business curriculum as a result of this crisis,” says Dr Stefano Harney, director of global learning at the school of business and management at Queen Mary, University of London. “British business schools are behaving like ageing Latin American dictators after the cold war. Abandoned by all, even the US, they fight on, continuing to proclaim the theology of free markets and maintaining an anachronistic anti-socialist vigilance.”

Harney says there is a failure to root CSR and business ethics firmly into courses. According to the Association of MBAs, just 20% of UK MBA courses have a mandatory CSR module. Otherwise it’s elective. So, if a student doesn’t fancy dedicated CSR, they duck out of it.

……..Harney demands more – including embedding CSR and ethics into all MBA modules. “This means placing responsibility and ethics inside modules that might seem most technical, like financial management and accounting, or e-marketing, not letting such principles be fenced off in a separate module,” he says. “The global supply chain manager who does not monitor labour standards is unqualified for her job, and the human resource manager who is not honest with employees about the workload implications of new organisational structures fails to meet the minimum standards of his job.”

It is all very well for CSR to become central to MBA courses, but it’s quite another to establish what a graduate may have learned at core of business practice, especially now that businesses are struggling to survive.

If the Observer’s Simon Caulkin column for a recent edition of The Observer is to be believed, many companies are finding reasons to more or less drop it from their agenda.

 How little influence CSR is able to wield within companies was charted in a recent article in Ethical Corporation noting the imperviousness of sales teams to ethical concerns. Sometimes scornfully labelled the “sales prevention team”, CSR professionals were “completely excluded” from debates about how to treat customers. Given the ritual obeisance to customers and the central role played by their abuse in the current crisis, this is an extraordinary revelation, kicking away any pretension CSR might have to pose as a saviour in today’s troubles. Rather the reverse: the reputational issues faced by the banks are only matched by those facing CSR itself.


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