Public Awareness of CSR

Here’s a press release from pollsters Ipsos Reid and Canadian Business for Social Responsibility: Corporate Social Responsibilty (CSR) In Canada

A new Ipsos Reid/CBSR poll of Canadian businesses and the Canadian public shows that 68% of Canadians pay attention to issues related to corporate social responsibility (CSR). The poll also shows that three-quarters of leading Canadian companies are actively engaged in key CSR activities. What’s interesting, however, is that while corporate Canada invests time and money in developing CSR policies and programs, Canadian consumers, despite their claim to be paying attention to these issues, are somewhat in the dark about the specific practices companies adopt.

Of course, this is an area where we should be wary of polls. There are well-known gaps between people’s readiness to claim an “interest” in an issue, and their willingness to actually do something about it. For example, surveys say that something like 90% of Canadians are against genetically modified foods, but studies have shown that, when given the option, most Canadians are unwilling to pay much of a premium for non-GM foods. (Technically, this is a difference between “expressed preferences” and “revealed preferences.”) This is particularly likely to be a problem where respondants to a poll have reason to exaggerate their own knowledge of, or attention to, an issue. Even when filling out a survey, how many people are going to feel good about saying, “Naw, I don’t care about companies being socially responsible?” Even if you don’t care, how likely are you to be honest about that?

As for consumer awareness of specific corporate initiatives:

Three-quarters of business leaders (76%) surveyed say their firms have “made an explicit commitment to CSR”. Almost the same proportion asserts that their companies have “developed formalized policies for CSR activities” (72%); this includes 50% whose policies are fully developed. And, 75% have “created and implemented programs related to CSR” (75%), with 56% saying implementation is fully underway.

Canadian consumers, however, remain considerably unaware of companies’ practices and initiatives. Only a third (33%) say they know of any companies in Canada who’ve “made an explicit commitment to CSR”. A similarly low number (31%) are aware of any companies who’ve got “formal policies in place that require companies to take on socially responsible activities and initiatives”, and 38% know of companies who’ve “created and carried out socially responsible activities and initiatives based on their policies”.

I’m not sure what to think of this data. 10 years from now, maybe CSR will be just another background condition for doing business, so that it won’t be at all surprising when the public can’t name particular examples. But for now, most companies engaged in serious CSR activities do try to advertise the fact. But the relative lack of public awareness may have something to do with:
– the fact that many (most?) CSR activities are advertised only to key corporate stakeholders (through, for example, annual reports) rather than to the general public;
– we can likely be aware of a corporate activity, recall it when it’s mentioned, and even be influenced by it (say, in our purchasing decisions) without being able to name that activity, off the top of our heads, when asked by a pollster.

I’d like to know how those numbers compare with statistics about people’s demonstrable awareness of other issues? Is the fact that only (?) 31% of Canadians are aware of companies with formal CSR policies a meaningful statistic? For example, what percentage of Canadians are aware of (i.e., can name when asked) the policy platforms of the major political parties? What percentage are aware of which makes and models of cars get the best mileage, or have the best crash-test ratings? And do any of those percentages reflect either a) the competence of the relevant organizations’ advertising campaigns, or b) the likelihood that members of the public will have internalized, or will be able to seek out, the information they need in order to make good decisions (whether about voting, buying, investing, or whatever).

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