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Americans Continue to Define Corporate Social Responsibility As Treating Employees Well

Submitted by: Fleishman-Hillard, Inc.

Categories: Corporate Social Responsibility

Posted: Jun 12, 2007 – 12:30 PM EST

 

Second Annual Survey Finds Treatment Of Employees, Commitment To Community Still Trump Environmental Stewardship

Jun. 12 /CSRwire/ - ST. LOUIS- June 12, 2007 — Despite the constant drumbeat of news coverage on such environmental issues as global warming, carbon offsetting, and sustainable development, Americans define corporate social responsibility more in terms of how they treat employees, than in terms of environmental responsibility. A recent nationwide public opinion survey commissioned by Fleishman-Hillard Inc. (FH) and the National Consumers League (NCL) revealed that the extensive focus on environmental issues in the media and by corporations does not necessarily reflect a substantial percentage of Americans' expectations of what it means for a company to be socially responsible.

The second FH-NCL survey examined the expectations that the public has of corporate America and the factors that drive those beliefs and attitudes, including Americans’ willingness to have government step in to ensure social responsibility. The survey also tracked the role that media and technology play in informing people about what companies are doing to be socially responsible.

"There has been a steady drumbeat of media coverage on environmental issues over the past year and, clearly, those are important issues. But our findings again this year indicate that for most Americans, social responsibility begins with a basic concept—companies should treat their employees well," said Dave Senay, president and chief executive officer of Fleishman-Hillard Inc.

KEY FINDINGS OF THE SURVEY

Treatment of Employees Still Trumps Environment in Defining CSR
For the second year in a row, respondents say that when it comes to how they define "corporate social responsibility," a company's treatment of its employees and its involvement in the community count more than its environmental stewardship. In addition, nearly 40 percent of Americans indicate that treatment of employees is more important to them than a company going beyond the law to protect the environment (15 percent).

The survey also finds that Americans expect companies to be actively engaged in the communities in which they operate, going beyond just making charitable contributions. When asked what expectations they have for companies doing business in their own communities, three times as many respondents cited such nonfinancial contributions as community involvement and volunteerism, over financial contributions.

"Charitable contributions are still a vital component of a company's larger corporate social responsibility efforts, but Americans expect companies in their communities to give time and expertise in addition to money," said Linda Golodner, president of the National Consumers League.

Americans Increasingly Visit Online Social Networks for CSR Information
A majority of Americans identify the Internet as their top source of information about the corporate social responsibility record of companies in their communities. In addition, of those respondents using online resources for CSR-related research, 73 percent have used Internet search engines, such as Google or Yahoo!(R), 57 percent have used Web sites of independent groups, and close to half have used corporate Web sites.

More than one-fourth of respondents who use the Internet to learn about a company’s CSR record are specifically turning to blogs or podcasts set up by customers or nonmanagement employees of companies. This finding represents a 100 percent increase over last year’s results.

"Americans are changing not only their views on the roles that business and government play in addressing social needs, but also the way they learn about a company's social responsibility record," said Senay. "Many Americans now say they would bypass television and newspapers and turn to online sources if they wanted to understand the social responsibility record of companies in their community. And more and more Americans are viewing social-networking sites, where a company cannot control its message, to gather information."

Americans Think Companies Do Not Act Responsibly
As in last year's survey, more than three-fourths of surveyed Americans give U.S. companies less-than-high marks in the area of operating in a socially responsible manner. And a majority of Americans believe that certain sectors — specifically, the energy, food, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries — need more government oversight than other industries to ensure that they are operating in a socially responsible way.

In addition to looking for more government oversight, 77 percent of surveyed American consumers believe that there is a need for global standards for corporate social responsibility (an increase of 12 percent over last year's results). Furthermore, two-thirds of respondents indicate that they would make purchasing decisions in favor of a company that met such global standards.

"It's evident that consumers are paying even more attention to socially responsible behavior and that they want to give their business to companies that meet common standards," said Golodner. "Efforts to help the business community improve its level of social engagement, such as the international social responsibility standards currently under development, will be essential if this growing consumer expectation is to be met."

Americans Want Government to be Involved
Americans of all political persuasions — 95 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of Independents, and 65 percent of Republicans — say that it is either very or extremely important for Congress to ensure that companies are addressing social issues.

"These findings paint a far different picture of corporate social responsibility than the model laid out by Milton Friedman nearly 40 years ago. The American public not only expects companies to help solve social issues but also wants government to step in to ensure that they do," said Senay. "As a result of the public's expectations, next year’s elections may lead to greater governmental involvement in how businesses respond to societal concerns."

About the Survey

In 2006, Fleishman-Hillard partnered with the National Consumers League (NCL) to conduct a second annual survey to benchmark evolving consumer attitudes toward corporate social responsibility, as well as consumer behaviors in response to CSR. The survey also tracked the role that media and technology play in informing people about what companies are doing to be socially responsible. In the first quarter of 2007, the professional interviewing service, Western Wats, conducted a quantitative survey with 2,078 U.S. adults nationwide through telephone interviews, averaging almost 30 minutes. The sampling error for the survey results reported is plus or minus one to two percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

About Fleishman-Hillard

Fleishman-Hillard Inc., one of the world's leading public relations firms, has built its reputation by using strategic communications to deliver what its clients value most: meaningful, positive, and measurable impact on the performance of their organizations. The firm is widely recognized for excellent client service and a strong company culture founded on teamwork, integrity, and personal commitment. Based in St. Louis, the firm operates throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America, Australia, and South Africa through its 80 owned offices. For more information, visit the Fleishman-Hillard Web site at www.fleishman.com.

Fleishman-Hillard is a part of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE: OMC). Omnicom is a leading global advertising, marketing, and corporate communications company. Omnicom's branded networks and numerous specialty firms provide advertising, strategic media planning and buying, direct and promotional marketing, public relations, and other specialty communications services to more than 5,000 clients in more than 100 countries.

About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is the nation's oldest consumer advocacy organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. The National Consumers League is a private, nonprofit advocacy group representing consumers on marketplace and workplace issues. NCL provides government, businesses, and other organizations with the consumers' perspective on concerns including child labor, privacy, food safety, medication information, and issues of social concern including corporate social responsibility.

NCL President Linda Golodner serves on the Board of Directors of the American National Standards Institute. She is also a member of the U.S. delegation to the International Standards Organization's Working Group on Social Responsibility, serving as the U.S. consumer expert in developing a new international standard on social responsibility. For more information, visit the National Consumers League Web site at www.nclnet.org.

For more information, please contact:

Tony Calandro Fleishman-Hillard Inc.
Phone: (314) 560-9805
Heather Horiuchi National Consumers League
Phone: (202) 835-3323, ext. 116

 

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