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Social Responsibility: Charity Hijacked

Is charity social responsibility?

After years helping businesses become more profitable, I've found myself waist deep in helping businesses get onboard the social responsibility bandwagon. Too often, I find when I meet with them they confuse charitable giving for social responsibility.

There is a unique and quintessential distinction between charitable giving and action for justice, creating a social responsible business. Charity is important and necessary in an unjust world. Acts of mercy through charity provide a respite to an injustice. Acts of justice, work to create sustainable social responsibility, by seeking to get to the root of an injustice with a resolution that is equitable (not equal) for all to fix the injustice so there is no need for mercy/charity. We are a long way from a world without a need for charity. Both are necessary – knowing the difference can give you a leg up on becoming as socially responsible as possible as well as savvy with your charitable giving.

Here’s an example. Consider Fair Trade Sports, a sporting equipment manufacturing company who has chosen a social enterprise model as their operating model. A social enterprise operating model requires the core values and practices of the company to reflect a triple bottom line:

Bottom Line 1) A Social Responsible Mission – FTS has chosen to be a Fair Trade, Eco-certified company that donates all profits after taxes to children’s charities

Bottom Line 2) A Commitment to Socially Responsible Care for Employees, Suppliers, Vendors, Consumers, and the Environment – as a Fair Trade and Eco-certified company FTS is caring justly for all

Bottom Line 3) An Operating Model that Makes Money to Support bottom line one and two – no matter how you slice it FTS is a business and they must make money to keep their doors open and their lights on so they can sell product to support themselves, their supply chain, and their commitment to children’s charities

A well know sports ball maker and competitor of FTS may very well donate to charities, but that would not make them a socially responsible company. This competitor even stamps their sports balls with "child free labor," however, they neglect to tell you that although there are no children in their factories, they pay their factory workers such a low wage that the factory worker’s children must go to work in other factories to help the family make enough money to survive. It is easy to hijack charitable giving for some PR mileage, but if you have a sweatshop in your supply chain are you socially responsible? If you are making your sports balls from PVC, which is toxic to our health and the environment, are you socially responsible.

Thankfully "make fast and cheap" is not the only viable way to do business.

FTS chooses to observe the 10 standards of Fair Trade, including paying fair wages in a local context to the workers in their supply chain. This results in a workforce that is justly paid and able to live a life of dignity and worth as contributing members of society, not recipients of charity. FTS also chooses to use only eco-friendly harvested rubber in their sporting equipment, allowing them to be good stewards to the environment, the habitats and people dependent on the sustainability of the rubber plant forests for a place to live and economic sustainability. Lastly, FTS choose to give their profits to children’s charities (much like the Newman’s Own model), because although they have a core value of operating with justice through social responsibility, they understand there is a need for aid, mercy, and education for those that are not able, ready, or illuminated on the principals of social responsibility.

Admittedly reaching the level of social responsibility that FTS and many other pioneers have carved out for themselves is challenging and not always easy. That is why I have started this blog – to share the theories, tips, and success stories of FTS and many others who are pioneering and illuminating the need for social responsibility in addition to charity.


Kellee K. Sikes, serving social entrepreneurs and social enterprise


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