Weinstein Shows Why CSR Needs To Be More Than PR And Compliance

CSR is not a fluffy idea, it's essential to run an effective modern company


Until the beginning of October 2017, Harvey Weinstein was seen as a genius - a powerful film producer behind some of the biggest films of the last 3 decades, such as Pulp Fiction, Gangs of New York and Shakespeare in Love. Fast forward only 2 weeks and he is one of the most hated men in America following accusations of sexual harassment going back several decades, among them accusations of rape and abuse of power.

It is a story that has shocked the world and has created headlines across the globe, as more and more actresses and women associated with Weinstein have come forward to tell their own stories. He is accused of forcing women to perform sex acts on him to get work, while those who rejected his advances were cast aside with their careers in ruins. His actions are horrific and he has been maligned by everybody in the movie business, but the most disturbing aspect of the affair is the number of people who later came out and said 'I knew'.

Harvey Weinstein's actions have no justification, but a system with poor corporate social responsibility (CSR) has allowed them to take place.

When most people think about CSR, they think about giving to charity, helping the environment, and generally actions that tend to get positive media coverage. The Weinstein Company, therefore, had excellent CSR. He was a well documented charity supporter, making sizable donations to American Foundation for AIDS Research, Exploring The Arts, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Oceana, Robin Hood, and UNICEF, among others. He paid millions of dollars to these worthwhile causes, which meant that he was seen in a good light and he complied with the widely held notion of external CSR. Very few people criticized the way he treated people, the wages he paid, or the damage he did the environment, because from the outside there was no evidence he was doing it.

The problems with The Weinstein Company are probably deeper and more disturbing that most companies in the world, but it serves as an example of how CSR, when looked at through the lens of PR or basic compliance, is essentially useless. CSR needs to impact every single member of staff throughout a company, it needs to be a way of thinking and acting that impacts the way people view how they work and how they interact with their colleagues.

Effective CSR strategies would see some of the issues currently impacting many companies disappear. A key idea of CSR is shareholder value, where every person within an organization needs to be valued and given the ability to speak out about issues they're having. In the case of Weinstein, and what increasingly appears to be the wider movie business, this isn't happening. At the Elle Women in Hollywood event, Reese Witherspoon put the issue into stark focus, saying '[I feel] true disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment. And I wish that I could tell you that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly it wasn’t.'

In the same way, the current salary gap between men and women is an issue of CSR. Companies need to make sure they are treating employees equally, because otherwise that impacts stakeholder value. If one person in a team feels more valued than another, whether that's through obvious actions like how people communicate with them or subversive actions like a decreased salary for the same role, it has a major impact on stakeholder value.

CSR is also dependent on communication, with people knowing that they can bring concerns to those around them and that they will be discussed. In the case of The Weinstein Company, and the company the Reese Witherspoon discussed, this is clearly not the case. The fact that over 20 women have come forward with accusations against Weinstein and hundreds of industry insiders have claimed his behavior was an 'open secret' is testament to the closed off and silencing nature of the company and wider industry.

People often see CSR as some fluffy, almost meaningless buzzword thrown around by social justice warriors or busy bodies around the office, but it is far from it. The idea behind CSR is to make workplaces safer, more sustainable, and more friendly. When it is seen only as a way to get positive press coverage or a regulation to pass, it nullifies its impacts and allows the worst to happen.


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