With Jon Entine, independent journalist; Mac McCabe, small business consultant; and moderator Mark Albion, well-known entrepreneur, author, and former professor, this panel discussion promised to provide conference attendees a unique forum for the discussion of one of the most immediate questions facing socially responsible companies.
Jon Entine prefaced the discussion with his view that the narrow, value-driven social agendas pushed by some so-called socially responsible companies should not be the yardstick by which other company's ethical and moral actions are judged. He feels that the recent push to establish litmus tests for judging companies is a deceptive and simplistic way of dealing with complex issues. He argued that there is a significant discrepancy between the intentions and actions of many of the self proclaimed socially responsible companies.
On the other side of the debate, Mac McCabe conceded that there will never be a socially responsible company in an absolute sense. Instead, he proposed the notion of social responsibility as a continual process, not an event or an endpoint. From this perspective, companies will always have imperfections and should not be expected to be flawless. He argued that socially responsible companies, though imperfect, should be recognized for acknowledging important and often unaddressed issues and for making a concerted effort to make a difference.
Although an hour discussion on such a difficult question can hardly be sufficient to discover the answer to such a difficult question, the discussion that followed brought forth some thought-provoking insights from the audience and panel members. Among the issues raised was the need for internal and external audits. Most agreed that the social audit, while never perfect, raises important questions and brings important social issues to the table. Social audits are a means to keep companies transparent and to create opportunities for change by use of self-referential evaluation. Beyond setting standards of evaluation, it was noted that ultimately, these issues will be decided in the marketplace. Some argued that although the marketplace is where consumers vote on important issues, there is the problem of poor communication and misinformation. That is, can marketers be expected or relied on to convey the necessary information for consumers to make educated and informed votes in the marketplace? Most agreed that this was not possible under current circumstances. With one issue being raised after another, one came away from the discussion feeling that although the discussion raised some significant insights, it did not offer any simple solutions.