Author Soraya Carvajal B., April 10 2014:        What roles do language, discourse and ideology in the field of sustainability? Do the actors of the Corporate Social Responsibility-RSC [CSR]/RSE [Business Social Responsibility] act according to the logic of the system that they intend to transform? How is the building of RSC/RSE being done in large companies? Is the RSC stuck in corporate governance? These were some of the issues addressed in the second edition of the event "RSC Activism", recently conducted by the ICEI [Instituto Complutense de Estudios Intercionales, Madrid, Spain], in the spirit of open spaces for dialogue and contribution in the building of responsible management of organizations.

On this day, Mercedes Molina Ibáñez, Vice Chancellor of the UCM [Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain], said that the dominant neo-liberal paradigms have caused situations of serious imbalances around the globe, as the market is setting the political and social action agendas. Because of this, for this academic, "good national and international governance" are ever more necessary, governance in which human, environmental and societal rights as a whole can be the protagonists, and where can be responsible management.

Molina Ibáñez also said that to integrate these issues and move towards a new paradigm of public policies are essential, as incentives or impositions, "because sometimes actions that impose equality are needed."

RSC/RSE in large corporations

Antoni Ballabriga, Director of Corporate Responsibility and Reputation of BBVA [Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria], said that currently the financial sector is mediated by three major trends: loss of social dignity, more pronounced in developed countries; increasing regulation of the industry; and the questioning of the dignity of the profession. Therefore, this manager believes that the most important challenges in the financial sector are rebuilding trust and reputation from within.

For Ballabriga, the fundamental role in the area of RSC/RSC within the company is to be the radar that translates and prioritizes "social intelligence" for managers of the organization to make better decisions that add value to all stakeholders. Because of this, the executive believes that the challenge of RSC/RSE departments is to connect with those who have the ability to make decisions in businesses "and it is therefore necessary to create a powerful narrative that connects and have management teams that really internalize that sustainability is worth more than the bottom line." However, Ballabriga recognized that there has been a failure to create this narrative and that this is a collective task, "because this has to do with the fundamental need to generate a cultural change at the highest level."

Moreover, before questioning bad practices in the banking sector, the senior official said that one should not put all the entities in the same boat, but acknowledged that "in Spain no poor practices are punished and that corrupts the system. Justice is very slow and it undermines morale and partly explains the disaffection of citizens."

In turn, Alberto Andreu, Global Director of Public Affairs for Telefónica, said that, yes, there is ideology in RSC/RSE, "as in everything, education, medicine, the welfare state, etc."

"All organizations always want more , more markets , more revenue , more customers, lower costs and our role (RSC/RSE) is often to put more red lines, here is where the concept of legitimacy rubs... our work is equilibrium," said the manager, for whom it is clear that "the culture of fast performance is not sustainable in the long term."

So the challenge for Andreu in RSC/RSE is moving from primarily managing social projects that, in his opinion, are limited to a certain "placebo effect ", to bet on teamwork and working transversely in organizations, pointing toward the "ideology of sustainability" as the objective , which involves social , cultural, and thinking changes. "It's better to talk about sustainability and think what is the nature of our job, our role, think about what is being done, why it is done and how it is done," Andreu said.

Is there a civil society?

For Ramón Jáuregui, Deputy PSOE [Spanish Socialist Workers' Party] in Congress, in the last five years in Spain, there has been a brutal rupture in the process of social legitimation of politics and parties, but also for businesses, especially for the images that the business world is being given in response to the crisis with disparity in salary scales, exaggerated and incorrect use of labor laws to produce downsizing, cutbacks, impoverishment and devaluations in the workplace. "All this is there, and the way we had come in RSE has suffered a significant decline and the society is making reasonable criticism of the business world."

According to this politician, another factor that affects the construction of RSC is extent if the conceptual confusion because RSC is focused on the social action of the company and there is an abuse of the social marketing of companies, which is far from the real practice of social responsibility.

To Jáuregui, another hurdle facing RSE is that in Spain there is no demanding society that rewards and punishment. "People think that here is a fantastic civil society and there is not an articulated, integrated civil society, with capable leadership with authority, honestly there is not (...) when parties fail and when institutions are suffering an enormous drain, a powerful civil society promotes, directs, establishes criteria , but in Spain, it is not there."

The deputy also said that currently the work in RSC/RSE is docketed, as companies have made their efforts routine and end up outsourcing the preparation of reports to a consultancy, which actually shows how little importance is given to RSC/RSE. To Jáuregui, other faults are that RSC has not permeated the company, nor is it horizontal, nor does it respond to all plans of the companies; therefore, he considers it necessary that the law require companies to meet RSC and especially in the field of human rights. "You have to converge the needs of the company to be profitable and responsible."

To Jáuregui, another key shortcoming is that, to differentiate it from neo-liberalism, RSC/RSE has not been imposed as a core idea, that has no ideological notoriety, intellectual bearing, and is an idea that leaders handle. "Does RSC have a future? Yes; does it have synergies with new paradigms? Yes; do we want companies to be strong agents in social change? Yes, but in RSE, there is much to do, "said the deputy.

In turn, Carles Campuzano, Deputy CiU [Convergence and Unionalliance], said that in Spain there is a lack of civil society, of opportunities for discussion, and there is also a disconnect between the civil society organizations with the rest of society, since they do not share interests.

"Among the university, which generates thought, and governmental, legislative political action or parliamentary control, there are no spaces that intersect, no agencies to help generate thought or that yield opportunities for discussion even between different ideological positions and that's where the quality of democracy (...) is tested. Moreover, most of the discussions that occur in the media on collective issues, just help generate noise, none help generate thought."

Campuzano further stated that those who, like him, have participated in the RSC movement should be self-critical because "we have not linked or incorporated the RSC to the vision of corporate governance."

The deputy also said that any serious approach to the RSC should take on the debate on the issue of taxes, because the tax issue should be addressed with full force. In that sense, he sounded the warning stating that some working groups of the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] discussed the double “no” taxation for business, such that they are not taxed where they have a registered office nor where they pursue economic activity, from the perspective that overcoming the economic crisis cannot happen by raising taxes on the middle class and businesses, because that terminates the system.

Other pitfalls

Pedro Ortún, DG [Director General] of Enterprise and Industry of the European Commission, said that to strengthen the debate on RSC it is much more necessary to involve politicians, trade union, business, NGOs, presidents, counselors leaders, among others, than take a public commitment to RSC.

Ortun further noted the necessity of sensitization of consumers, investors , governments, companies (as employers), and citizens, to be the main drivers of RSC/RSE from below, from the base and incorporate into their internal decision processes all criteria of social responsibility.

This directive also called for the media to be more involved with the RSC since, in his opinion, today's RSC issues are only taken seriously by small specialized media and none of the major media has been involved. "If the media were much more responsible, it could create opportunities for discussion and further contribute to this debate," said Ortun.

For José Carlos González of Responsible Federal RS, Responsible and Sustainable Investment in Comfia-CCOO, much of the current RSE is a strong ultra-liberal ideology, an ideology that has to do with the causes of the crisis. "There is a RSE of the Tea Party who think that unions are an outdated thing and we should be done with them , who believe more in politics and that large corporations could replace the state and promote social action while dynamiting the welfare policies," said the union leader.

According to Gonzalez, the Spanish business sector will not accept new concepts of RSE , as defined by the guidelines of the EU [European Union]. "It's holding back the responsible public procurement, what is consensual at the political level is not being implemented, there are too many obstacles and one key is the lack of indicators to guide companies (...) Those indicators speak of specificity, so it is necessary to have indicators that show pay equity, taxation, demonstrating the commitment of the companies to be taxed, legal compliance indicators on supply chains, etc."

To this union representative in Spain, a strong policy is required on RSE, that speaks of strong laws and people responsible to help work on RSE, improved representation of stakeholders and that there be dialogue between companies and unions, because in his opinion, at this time, there is not.

This blog is part of a two-part series, continued here.

Translated from the Spanish on the icuestiona website.