Unethical CSR- Fraud or Ignorance?

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It is a shame to write about unethical CSR in this time and age when information is readily available on what businesses can and should do for ethical CSR. Tourism in particular has hundreds of indicators, awards and certification schemes recognising all sorts of “ethical”  or”responsible” practices. The number of awards and certifications programs and the numerous guidelines available online and through subscription gives the impression that majority of businesses understand what right even when they don’t comply. However there are CSR trends that are unethical and discouraging.

The 5th Issue of The Sustainable Tourism East Africa Report is out!!!!

There are a few disturbing actions by businesses when it comes to CSR:

  1. Purporting to support a cause without involving the primary stakeholders: More and more many businesses are adapting labels and logos of “good causes” for a day, then take hundreds of photos and share on all social platforms pretending to be engaged, but are unable to explain their exact engagement with the cause.This happens when they fail to engage with primary stakeholders and interest groups therefore lack understanding and knowledge on how to effectively support the cause. Sometimes its deliberate to gain social capital. When  a business takes advantage of a good cause like breast cancer awareness month, or world diabetes day, or world elephant day and earth day, to attract attention of clients without having any tangible plan for the cause, this is unethical and amounts to CSR fraud.
  2. Lack of public disclosure on what company has committed to specific CSR: Like the name clearly states, CSR is a “public-good” action. It is therefore expected that whoever engages in it will willingly disclose their investment on ‘public good”. Best practice would be to disclose the expected investment in advance and then corroborate the budget with actual investment in public reports. Few businesses are able to disclose their CSR investments before or after an intervention.  This failure to disclose is unethical and  amounts to CSR fraud
  3. Mixing funds from CSR Campaigns with business funds: Travelers philanthropy is one of the most abused concepts in tourism. Tourism businesses raise funds from philanthropic travellers for “public good” projects without having separate systems to manage the funds. These businesses end up using some of the funds to support their commercial operations. This co-mingling of funds results in CSR fraud
  4. Producing non-specific CSR Reports: Some businesses do not document their CSR activities, especially the financial aspects, systematically. Lack of proper documentation means they cannot produce effective financial and narrative reports. These kind of reports are prevents interest groups and stakeholders from asking questions. The businesses is the ultimate winner.

Suffice to say that the CSR fraud in tourism is perpetuated by awards and certification schemes that lack capacity and resources to verify claims made by businesses in award and certification application forms. Awards are behaving like  cheer-leaders who encourage the players to win but have no details on the rules of the game.

Change will be achieved through education and learning. Until then, green washing continues, preventing tourism from making an impact in the sustainable development arena.

Judy Kepher-Gona

@GonaJudy

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