“I once went down to Neil’s ranch and he rowed me out into the middle of the lake—putting my life in his hands once again. He waved at someone invisible and music started to play, in the countryside. I realized Neil had his house wired as the left speaker, and his barn wired as the right speaker. And Elliot Mazer, his engineer, said ‘How is it?’ And Neil shouted back . . . ‘More Barn!’” —Graham Nash, talking about how Neil Young first played him Harvest.
I always loved this story but hadn’t thought about it for years. Last week, however, I kept coming across inspiring examples of CSR leadership that made me think we need “more social.” I also discovered that “more barn” means more than I thought.
For years, many of the world’s big electronics companies, including Apple, have largely neglected the problem of students working in the factories of their suppliers in China. According to The New York Times, “Students complain of being ordered by school administrators to put in very long hours on short notice at jobs with no relevance to their studies; local governments sometimes order schools to provide labor, and the factories pay school administrators a bonus.” On Friday,however, Hewlett-Packard, one of the world’s largest makers of computers and other electronics, demonstrated industry leadership by imposing new limits on the employment of students and temporary agency workers at factories across China. “Moving forward, all factory work must be voluntary,” and students and temporary workers must be free “to leave work at any time upon reasonable notice without negative repercussions, and they must have access to reliable and reprisal-free grievance mechanisms,” according to the company.
“In the context of greater transparency, rising public expectations, and pressing social, economic, and environmental issues, corporate responsibility matters more than ever,” said Matthew Taylor, CEO of RSA a London-based “enlightenment organization” that is committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. “The real prize is to show that your initiatives are so powerful that other organisations—and maybe even the government—should be following your lead,” wrote Taylor in The Guardian on Friday. “That way you make a difference not just to the people you deal with directly but to the whole of society.” Taylor cites Diageo as an example of a company that aligned corporate strategy and public policy by using “its own research to influence public health messaging about binge drinking, moving the emphasis from an ineffective focus on long-term health to powerful images of young people making fools of themselves when drunk.”
Last week, the government of India became a social purpose leader. “The government is expecting a fund flow of more than Rs 10,000 crore a year from private companies for social welfare initiatives as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) after Parliament clears the Companies Bill,” reported The Economic Times. “Once the legislation is ratified by Parliament, India would become the first country to mandate CSR through a statutory provision.” According to proposed legislation, private firms will need to designate 2% of their average net profit for social initiatives. “The private companies may engage in promoting education, constructing toilets in schools, reducing child mortality, and any other area contributing towards social welfare,” said corporate affairs minister Sachin Pilot.
The link between the “more barn” story and social purpose leadership still seemed dubious. But yesterday I found out about corporate sponsorship atFarm Aid, an organization that supports family farmers and that Neil Young helped to found. Since 1985 the organization has raised awareness about the loss of family farms and has raised more than $40 million to keep farm families on their land.
Farm Aid needs corporate sponsors to help underwrite the costs of its 2013 concert event, which will increase the resources available to support its work with family farmers. The organization accepts sponsorship dollars from food-related companies that pay family farmers a fair price, have ecological standards for farming practices, and make their commitment to sustainable and family farming known to their customers. Farm Aid’s “family farmers first” food sponsorship philosophy guides acceptance, and sponsors are constantly monitored. “Determined, dedicated and independent just like the family farmers we support, Farm Aid is a perfect match for sponsors with integrity and a sense of mission,” the organization proclaims.
If you believe that “more barn” is important, you can sponsor Farm Aid. If you think we need “more social”, I hope those other examples will inspire you to take your CSR program to the next level.
Paul Klein founded Impakt in 2001 to help corporations become social purpose leaders and is considered a pioneer in the areas of corporate social responsibility.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com Posted with permission of the author.
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