Companies That Care?

The era of social media and lightspeed internet have made reputation and image incredibly important in today’s society.  Every instance of misconduct can be broadcast to all of your friends with a click, resulting in a cascade that can cripple a company forever.  Out of this we have seen a rise in corporate social responsibility with corporations like Walmart donating food and water to those in need.  Not everyone is pleased about this increase in aid from major businesses.  In his book titled “Saying ‘No’ to Walmart?  Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarianism” Stephen Hopgood rails against the company saying “aid that simply provides calories for the stomach and water for the throat is a reproduction of people to things…concern for the person entails concern for the whole being, including a person’s state of mind, sense of loss and the devaluation of life (Hopgood, 113).”  He also states that “humanitarianism is about motives, and not simply about outcomes, Walmart could never be humanitarian (Hopgood, 112-113).”  I myself torn by his statements.  On the one hand, I think that the recipients of aid simply do not care what company sent it to them.  If they are dying of thirst and starvation, their desire to live will far outweigh any “devaluation of life”.  I think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts it quite eloquently; if you do not have food and security you are unlikely to be worrying about other less basic problems in life.  I do agree with Hopgood’s point about motives.  Walmart is a corporation known for its sexual discrimination, unsafe working conditions and low pay making it very clear that it is minimally concerned about the well being of others (Clark Estes).

This notion that it’s not just the what but the why is key and something that I think can be applied to other areas.  The 2008 financial crisis occurred because of unsustainable banking practices.  Thousands were encouraged to take out loans to buy homes they couldn’t afford.  Wall street knew this was a risk, and they kept on doing it anyway.  This culture of unsustainability is pervasive in western business ideology and is a slowly ticking time bomb.  What gives me hope is that many companies seem to have realized that and moved towards increased corporate social responsibility.  Consider Microsoft, a pioneer in computer and software technologies.  They have numerous programs focusing on improving education and recently raised 1 billion dollars in an employee donation drive (Smith).  Or Google, who recently partnered with law enforcement by setting up a system that automatically identifies, flags and takes down child pornography around the world (Barrett).  These corporations and others like them are dedicated to helping others and maintaining a sustainable business model.

Obviously this kind of aid is different than much of what we have been talking about in this class.  So is it humanitarian?  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines humanitarian “as a person promoting human welfare and social reform” (Merriam-Webster).  If that’s the case then I think it goes without saying that these corporations are providing humanitarian aid.  If we could effectively combine the massive wealth of Fortune 500 companies with experienced aid workers I have no doubt that we could make a major difference in the world.  So what if Walmart makes a few more billion?  If it means saving 20,000 lives, I’m all for it.

Works Cited
Barrett, David. “Google Builds New System to Eradicate Child Porn Images from the Web.” Telegraph. Telegraph, 15 June 2013. Web. 25 June 2013.
Clark Estes, Adam. “Wal-Mart’s Labor Rights Headaches Are Adding Up.” The Atlantic Wire. N.p., 2 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 June 2013.
 Hopgood, Stephen.  “Saying ‘No’ to Wal-Mart?  Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarianism.”  Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics.  Ed. Michael N. Barnett and Thomas George Weiss.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.  98-123.  Print.
“HumanitarianAbout Our Definitions: All Forms of a Word (noun, Verb, Etc.) Are Now Displayed on One Page.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 June 2013.
Smith, Jacquelyn. “The Companies With the Best CSR Reputations.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 10 Dec. 2012. Web. 25 June 2013.

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