UPDATED: A Whirlpool of Corporate Social Responsibility

Whirlpool

Image by Dave Stokes via Flickr

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) means different things to different people. To some it is a complex oxymoron. To others, it is the promise of a bright, shiny future.

By people, I include corporations, of course.  It was, after all, Mitt Romney who famously quipped “corporations are people, my friend” in response to a heckler while campaigning for the GOP leadership in Iowa:

The Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School defines CSR as follows:

We define corporate social responsibility strategically. Corporate social responsibility encompasses not only what companies do with their profits, but also how they make them. It goes beyond philanthropy and compliance and addresses how companies manage their economic, social, and environmental impacts, as well as their relationships in all key spheres of influence: the workplace, the marketplace, the supply chain, the community, and the public policy realm.

The term “corporate social responsibility” is often used interchangeably with corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, social enterprise, sustainability, sustainable development, triple-bottom line, corporate ethics, and in some cases corporate governance. Though these terms are different, they all point in the same direction: throughout the industrialized world and in many developing countries there has been a sharp escalation in the social roles corporations are expected to play. Companies are facing new demands to engage in public-private partnerships and are under growing pressure to be accountable not only to shareholders, but also to stakeholders such as employees, consumers, suppliers, local communities, policymakers, and society-at-large.

Laggard firms and governments can sometimes use the existence of corporate social responsibility programs to shirk their roles. Government ultimately bears the responsibility for leveling the playing field and ensuring public welfare. In order for corporate social responsibility programs to work, government and the private sector must construct a new understanding of the balance of public and private responsibility and develop new governance and business models for creating social value.

One man’s protest movement is another man’s  mob with pitchforks. Just ask House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who recently spoke at the  2011 Voter Values Summit in Washington to comment on the Occupy Wall Street protests:

“If you read the newspapers today, I for one am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country,” he said.

Cantor appeared try and connect the protests to the cries of “class warfare” Republicans are lobbing at President Obama’s jobs bill and his Buffett Rule.

“Believe it or not, some in this town have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans,” Cantor said.

I suspect that some level of cognitive dissonance is expected in the political arena. After all, the Tea Party Movement began as a “grassroots” protest against Big Government, excessive taxation and restricting the ability of average, hard working Americans (at least those not yet unemployed) to pursue the “American Dream” of material wealth, status and sharing an ever shrinking piece of the apple pie of success.

Ultimately, if somewhat haphazardly, the Tea Party has grown in political influence (whichever polling metrics one employs), becoming  an agglomeration of predominantly right-wing ideologues, conservative Christian fundamentalists and “they took our jerbs-ists”  dominating main stream media  political coverage.  It is ironic, however, that the cognitive illusion of an entrepreneurial and creative class, built upon the broken tatters of the Horatio Alger myth, has devolved into the rhetoric of “class warfare“; a fundamentally Marxian principle of political economy.

Perhaps the pie everyone wants to share is not made of apples, but cherries, ripe for the picking.

The Occupy Wall Street social phenomenon does appear spontaneous and unfocused, as Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice remarks:

The discussion focuses politics and the values of the masses in addressing economic inequity.  Of course, there are anarchists and labor unionists, likely a few syndicalists thrown in for good measure.  But that misses the point.  There’s no unity of purpose beyond making the point that things are not right as they now exist.  What it should be, and how that should be achieved, is a fight yet to be had.

Nathan Schneider, editor of WagingNonviolence.org, begins the discussion with what I see as the most salient point:

The main thing that Occupy Wall Street is doing right also happens to be the main thing these protesters are doing in the first place: sticking around. Merciless persistence is a large part of what made the Arab Spring work: those in the streets in Egypt and Tunisia managed to hold on longer than their rulers could.

The inability to persist dooms almost every effort to effect change.  Whether we chalk it up to our 2.7 second attention span, or the fact that there are plenty of fun things to do on the internet to keep us off the streets, we tend to scream very loud for a moment and move on.  While those in power might prefer we not scream at all, they’ve figured out that if they ignore us, we eventually go away and they go on with their business as if nothing happened.  That because nothing happened.  Nothing that matters, anyway.

Greenfield is not merely tilting at windmills in some quixotic fashion. He is on his own  personal quest to challenge a corporate giant to live up to its word, abide by its company motto and PR slogans, and to simply do the right thing. Greenfield’s patience is wearing thin, but instead of a knee-jerk reaction of complaining to the Better Business Bureau or some consumer advocacy group or watchdog, or, deciding to “sue the bastards”, he’s taken a more creative tack:

Over the past few days, I’ve been playing something of a game on twitter with my dear friends, Kyle, Mandy and Rachel, of the KitchenAid (a subdivision of Whirlpool Corporation) social media team.  It’s putatively got to do with my refrigerator, which has taken to twitter and become something of a celebrity, getting a nod from Elie Mystal at Above the Law, a post by Sam Glover at Caveat Emptor and an interview with Bruce Carton at Legal Blog Watch.  For the record, I am not @SHGrefrigerator.

There’s been plenty of fun and laughs along the way, but it’s always made a mess of KitchenAid’s social media branding campaign and effort to pretend that they truly care.  For some, it’s been a bit persistent, causing some to get bored of it, and others to question why their toaster issues aren’t worthy of similar social media concern.

Twitter “expert”  Adrian Dayton, informed me that

@ScottGreenfield of all your causes, this is perhaps the one in least need of a coalition of angry lawyers. #savethefridges

In the scheme of things to be concerned about, my refrigerator is trivial. But Adrian demonstrates the common mistake of a person who has never stood for anything, always ready with an excuse to avoid involvement. Maybe KitchenAid will hire Adrian to teach its people how to twit, since they aren’t doing a very good job of it at the moment.This “cause” is one that seeks to hold a corporation to honor its obligations to a consumer. It helps me. It helps you too.  Just as KitchenAid has offered a thousand apologies for the inconvenience (about what isn’t really important at the moment), it’s done nothing but taken money and failed at every turn by its own incompetence to deliver what it promised. In this regard, it’s just another day in the life of an American.

There is strength in numbers. While I often join the chorus of those who rail against the banality of social media gurus lying to others how social media will make them rich quick, social media, as a platform and soapbox, does have a competitive advantage in disseminating and aggregating news and information to a larger audience, compared to “standing on a soapbox and shouting on the street corner”.

Consider this recent post by The Bloggess: And then the PR guy called me “a fucking bitch”. I can’t even make this shit up. (Twitter: @thebloggess) that excoriates a PR firm mercilessly, leading one of her followers to wryly observe:

What will the Whirlpool Corporation, which owns the KitchenAid® brand among other appliance brands, do in the face of this burgeoning, Appliance Spring, #OccupyKitchenAid grassroots social media protest? Consider Whirlpool Corporation’s bold Mission Statement:

Our Vision

Every Home… Everywhere… with Pride, Passion and Performance

Our vision reinforces that every home is our domain, every customer and customer activity our opportunity. This vision fuels the passion that we have for our customers, pushing us to provide innovative solutions to uniquely meet their needs.

Pride… in our work and each other

Passion… for creating unmatched customer loyalty for our brands

Performance… that excites and rewards global investors with superior returns

We bring this vision to life through the power of our unique global enterprise and our outstanding people… working together… everywhere.

Our Mission

Everyone, Passionately Creating Loyal Customers for Life

Our mission defines our focus and what we do differently to create value. We are a company of people captivated with creating loyal customers. From every job, across every contact, we will build unmatched customer loyalty…one customer at a time.

Our Values

Our values are constant and define the way that all Whirlpool Corporation employees are expected to behave and conduct business everywhere in the world.

Respect — We must trust one another as individuals and value the capabilities and contributions of each person.

Integrity — We must conduct all aspects of business honorably – ever mindful of the longtime Whirlpool Corporation belief that there is no right way to do a wrong thing.

Diversity and Inclusion — We must maintain the broad diversity of Whirlpool people and ideas. Diversity honors differences, while inclusion allows everyone to contribute. Together, we create value.

Teamwork — We must recognize that pride results in working together to unleash everyone’s potential, achieving exceptional results.

Spirit of Winning — We must promote a Whirlpool culture that enables individuals and teams to reach and take pride in extraordinary results and further inspire the “Spirit of Winning” in all of us.

Let’s hope that Whirlpool Corporation’s “spirit of winning” is less Charlie Sheen-esque and more about corporate social responsibility, accountability and American exceptionalism.  A brand is a terrible thing to let go down the drain.

UPDATE:

It appears that @KitchenAidUSA is not living up to its part of the bargain. Here is a recent screenshot of @ScottGreenfield’s Twitter stream where it looks as though this could get, in Scott’s words, “ugly”:

An apology without atonement is as useful as a refrigerator in an igloo.

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