Social Responsibility and Entrepreneurial Dilemmas

The era we live in is beyond doubt an interesting one.  
At the one hand we are somehow convinced that we have a right to be happy and therefore to enjoy life. At the other hand we have become increasingly aware of the issue of possibly limited durability of the planet we live on.
Trends of luxurious life-style coexist with trends of reputation marketing and other expressions of corporate social responsible management. Another feature of this time is the i-technological facilitation of social dialogue and the awareness that consumers express themselves also by what and how they consume.
This privilege of freedom to choose does not prevent the civiliansí cry for a protecting government in order to exclude any possible threat to our existence.
And governments do respond with local or global measures and regulations.

In this context the industry is to conduct its business. Whether itís the business of oil, of alcohol, of tobacco, of pharmaceuticals, of cars. Business is basically a market driven activity. There is a need to grow, there is a need for success, there is a need for market and there is a need for pride.

Like many others companies, also the big players in the described trade aim for responsible practice. Their field of business has therefore also become a field of effective communication and, more recently still, emotion management.
The variety of stakeholders has also become more elaborate than ever. Technology has facilitated simultaneous awareness of issues.

The issues at hand imply business-ethics, concerning human rights, care for environment and labour practices. Discussion and best practice circle around subjects like fair trade, climate change management and responsible codes of conduct towards employees.
And, added tot this, in some cases, harm reduction, specifically in terms of health. And this is where alcohol, pharmaceuticals, candy, sugar, and tobacco take a special position.

Since the core of such business touches the market-need for joy and immediate satisfaction, the following question seems justified:

Can a company conduct its business in a responsible manner? On first impression, this may seem a Catch 22 kind of question. In the public domain the discussion constitutes not only of scientific of otherwise rational arguments, but also of emotions. The emotion market, as it exists nowadays, asks for specialized treatment, since it can have, also by mediation of equally market-driven media, considerable consequences. Awareness of this phenomenon can call for prudence on the side of the manufacturer.
But that attitude is a matter of choice.
The activity is however legal and the trade supports the government considerably, if only by way of tax income. The industry also provides jobs and contributes significantly to the economy and society. The market shows a need for the product and though encouraging communication about is seems to be not done, there appears to exist a great joy for people consuming it.

Of course the question of durability is thus relevant for this industry. Choosing a social responsible approach seems to be both unavoidable and just. In order to be successful companies must assume special responsibility. They can do that in several ways. They can show transparency about the products and their effects on health. They can actively contribute to minimising the risks of consumption of their products. They can respond to public criticism with integrity and conviction and apply self-monitoring
practices. In sum, they can create a social climate in which they can operate with credibility. But it takes effort and a selection of values, preferably those that coincide with the companyís existing or promoted culture.
In the manner of conducting this approach a company can express its specific company related style and class. The industry can for instance facilitate the engagement process by providing an interactive environment for discussion. The industry can try to be more candid about itís modus operandi. The industry can try to initiate drastic change by thorough innovation of production and trade. It can even try to enter new fields of products. It has to realise then what itís core business really is. The answer wonít be: cigarettes/tobacco, or cars, or candy, or alcohol. The answer had tot be found in the effect of such products on the consumer. It will probably touch terms of emotional and psychological gratification.
Strangely enough it will be that moment that durability will entail succesfull continuity of business.

Dr. Susanne Piët,
Pres. Susanne Piët Consulting Agency for Communication Strategy & Emotion Management in Wapenveld,
the Netherlands.