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CHANGE THE GAME

 

A LATIN AMERICAN APPROACH TO CSR

 

by Enrique G. Herrscher (UBA, Argentina)

 

 

This is a contribution to the CSR dialogue, to the effect of including in it a discussion on whether an approach to this theme from a Latin American (in future: LA) perspective would/should be different from the general  approach.

 

Our reasoning is the following:

 

  1. In LA the corruption is substantially more widespread and involves greater amounts than elsewhere[1].

 

  1. Most of it involves bribes required by  government officers. However, where someone receives a bribe there is someone who pays it. This means that corporations are a necessary part of the action.

 

  1. In most cases, this involves huge public works projects and processes of privatization and re-nationalization (both ways), which are mostly handled by big corporations.

 

  1. Another big area of corruption, often associated with above, is the authorization of projects affecting negatively the environment, disregarding legal or technical restrictions that should protect it.

 

  1. In both cases, local firms may be involved, but also frequently multinationals, which rarely would do at home or in more developed markets what they do sometimes  in LA countries.

 

  1. The worst consequence of these two types of corruption is not so much the money involved (although also important: it finally goes to the price we all pay) but the fact that decisions are distorted: projects are approved not by their usefulness but according to the margin left to the decision maker.

 

  1. At the same time, CSR is being very “popular” these days in LA, specially in Argentina, the country I know best. Good press and any quantity of papers in congresses. But the focus is not on the way business is conducted, but on specific social or environmental projects.

 

  1. This being so, we posit that in LA the main preoccupation of CSR should not point primarily to what corporations do, “labeled” CSR (donations to schools, to other childrens’ activities, environmental action, employee welfare, etc.), welcome as they certainly are, but mostly to their business behavior.

 

  1. In other words, in LA countries CSR should be more defined by the negative: what corporations should NOT do, rather than by the positive: the welcome donations and specific CSR projects.

 

  1. In fact: often those donations and direct actions may have a hidden purpose: to offset a negative image produced by very bad business practice. In that case, praising those projects is almost equivalent to being an accomplice  to that bad practice, or at least to shielding it. In Spanish we have a saying: “Cuando la limosna es grande hasta el santo desconfía”: “when the alms is big even the Saint gets suspicious”.

 



[1] See reports by Transparency Internacional, UN and many others


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