Republicans or Democrats – Who Owns Corporate Responsibility ?

Corporate responsibility ecompasses the activities of a company that contribute positively to society (and the environment) beyond the need to make a profit and follow the law.  Can either the political left or right claim greater ownership of this concept ?

I used to think, perhaps naively, that the left leaning would be more likely to posit that companies have a broader  3 P’s (people, profit, planet) role and the right leaning would be more likely to have a narrower ‘profit only’ view of the role of companies.

But it is always healthy to turn assumptions on their head and take an alternative perspective and recent events have certainly prompted me to do that.

At the beginning of the year Newt Gingrich, in response to Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital,  and from a further right perspective, stated  a pretty clear position that responsible capitalism requires more than just making money and following the law, but that it also includes an obligation to pay attention to employment.

“There’s a big difference between people who go out and create a company — even if they fail — if they try to go in the right direction, if they share in the hardships, if they’re out there with the workers doing it together. That’s one thing. But if someone who is very wealthy comes in and takes over your company and takes out all the cash and leaves behind the unemployment?………”

I could have viewed this as political expediency, but then more recently, as I wrote about last week, Steve Rattner, from his position on the left of Mitt Romney,  made an important statement on TV when said;

“Bain Capital’s responsibility was not to create 100,000 jobs or some other number, it was to make profits for its investors, most of whom were pension funds, endowments and foundations and it did it superbly well, acting within the rules, acting very responsibly and was a leading firm”

The two positions combined turn my previous assertion on its head.

Perhaps there is a connection here with regulation. Perhaps a hands-off approach toward towards regulation goes hand in hand with an expectation that companies will take a broader perspective of their role. Whereas, a belief in stronger legal and regulatory limitations might stem from a perspective that in practice companies in a free market place will do nothing but the follow law and make as much money as possible.

What do you think – does either right or left have a bigger claim on corporate responsibility ?


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