Mind the gap! Corporate social responsibility in Latin America


Andrés Thompson

Andres Thompson

Andrés Thompson

Fresh from the oven came to my desk the most recent regional study on perceptions about the state of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Latin America. Although I am skeptical about the quality of these kinds of global surveys, some of the data collected is worth considering.

The State of CSR 2011 is a quantitative study that describes the perceptions of consumers and business executives on the state of CSR in Latin America. More than 3,200 people completed the survey: this included 1,279 executives and 1,927 consumers from 17 Latin American countries. The online questionnaire was created using CSR dimensions, as well as the actions and related expectations of the ISO 26,000 guidelines, as considered appropriate and relevant for this part of the continent by a panel of experts. The study was led by Forum Empresa Network, which coordinates 21 CSR-promoting non-profit organizations in 18 Latin American countries, bringing together a total of 3,400 companies.

The first question sets the tone for the rest of the survey. When asked about the ‘level’ of CSR, the perception among business executives and consumers varies considerably: executives scored the companies for which they work at 73%, while the consumers assigned the businesses in their countries a ‘CSR level’ of 53%. The countries in which consumers and executives disagree most about companies’ ‘CSR levels’ are Ecuador, Bolivia, El Salvador, Brazil, Nicaragua and Honduras.

The perception gap among executives and consumers continues all along the study at an average of 20% in almost all the questions. Sometimes the gap is wider, like the perception about the level of CSR per industry: while the executives rank the highest the multi-brand retail sector, consumers ranked it the lowest. In general, it seems that consumers have a more critical view of CSR than executives.

This gap reminded me of one of the main conclusions of a seminar organized several years ago by the Argentine Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility (IARSE), in which several groups promoting CSR in Latin America participated. The conclusion, called the ‘3 Cs’, stated that there were three main paths for the development of CSR: in the first place, it was a matter of leadership at the level of the companies and their degree of consciousness about the problems of society; in the second, it was a matter of convenience for the brand and reputation of the company; and finally, the degree of pressure or coercion from the various companies’ stakeholders.

The above-mentioned study just shows the evolution of CSR in Latin America, comparing 2009 with 2011, including this year the perception of consumers. But it lacks information about their social investments, and it also does not explain the reasons of such evolution. It is my assumption, based on that gap I mentioned, that consumers have a very important role to play in generating more consciousness among business leaders, such as about the convenience to do more and to do it better.

A recent campaign taking place through social media in Brazil warning the sponsors of the local version of Big Brother (where an alleged case of rape took place) and the TV broadcasting company for their support of this programme may be a good example on how this can be done. It is time for other stakeholders, in particular employees of these companies, to get more engaged in putting this pressure. So business leaders, mind the gap!

(Mind the gap is a warning to train passengers on the London Underground to take caution while crossing the gap between the train door and the station platform. It was introduced in 1969.)

Andrés Thompson is currently the general manager of streetfootballworld in Brazil.

Tagged in: Corporate social responsibility Latin America

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