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March 1st, 2008

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is front and center these days as many companies become increasingly aware and engaged in making a difference globally, regionally and/or locally. Idealists see this as a positive evolution on corporate social consciousness. Skeptics argue that CSR is nothing more than a trend, and a self-serving one at that, a PR ploy to make consumers believe that companies they buy from are doing good things in the world. Idealists come back with another perfectly defendable argument of “So what? If they’re doing good things in the world, does the motive really matter”?

And how do the beneficiaries view corporate “good deeds”? Here is an interesting case study reported by Times online. Total, the French oil and gas giant, built a chicken farm to help people living in the shadow of its refinery in Congo Brazzaville learn the skills necessary to start their own businesses. A month after it opened, the farm’s first students demanded wages. When Total refused, pointing out that the exercise was about learning not earning, many walked out, accusing the firm of exploiting their labor. The initiative, supposedly a perfect example of corporate social responsibility (CSR), seemed to have backfired. What happened next? Do take a look at the article!

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