Manufacturing & Society: Partnering With Others

Social responsibility doesn't happen in isolation.

The word culture is overused and overworked, especially in the context of companies. Yet corporate culture is a product of people, including a corporate culture that champions social responsibility. Defining a manufacturing company's social responsibility, devising strategies and leading their execution all begin -- or should -- with the CEO. But if corporate social responsibility is really to be an integral part of what the company is about, it won't happen if the chief executive operates alone, or the company acts in isolation. It depends upon partnering with others, within a company and with those outside.

In the UK, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca PLC supports the Brightside Trust, a charity that helps underprivileged young people enter the health-care professions. A vested interest? Sure. But understandable. Elsewhere, AstraZeneca is funding a project in Sweden aimed at assessing the environmental impact of contaminated soil. Another pharmaceutical firm, GlaxoSmithKline PLC, involves itself in global community partnerships to improve health and education in places without sufficient resources. The program predictably involves funding and product donations, but it aims also to create strategic partnerships. Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp. (UTC) in 2004 marked its 27th year of partnership with Special Olympics Connecticut. Across the U.S., UTC's Carrier subsidiary has donated more than $1.8 million to Habitat for Humanity and its employees have contributed more than 15,000 volunteer hours. Engine maker Cummins Inc., ranked No. 1 this year among the 100 Best Corporate Citizens by Business Ethics magazine, funds outstanding architecture in its hometown of Columbus, Ind., as well as the development of schools in India and China.

BP PLC, General Electric Co., General Motors Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Nestle SA, Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever NV, Coca-Cola Co. and Nike Inc. are among the companies cited in "Profits with Principles" (2004, Currency Doubleday) as examples of manufacturers that have formed new alliances as part of their defined social responsibilities. "Successful companies today build new types of partnership to increase the leverage and effectiveness of their philanthropic and community investment programs," state Ira A. Jackson, a fellow at Harvard University's Center for Public Leadership, and Jane Nelson, a senior fellow and director of the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the book's authors.

Another kind of initiative that deserves close watching is the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics, a partnership launched in January 2004 and housed at the University of Virginia's Darden School in Charlottesville. Its announced mission is to pull together research and the practical to provide hands-on training to current and future business leaders. Its success will be measured by the extent to which CEOs and other leaders in manufacturing avail themselves of the training and make its lessons part of their companies' day-to-day operations.

Another effort to bring people, companies and groups together is the creation by the Business Roundtable this past May of a network to expedite relief to victims of major natural disasters, such as tsunami that hit southeast Asia last December. "The Business Roundtable Partnership for Disaster Relief will seek to fully integrate the capabilities of a variety of sectors -- such as health, technology, financial services, construction, transportation and communications -- into a coordinated private sector response," explains the Washington, D.C.-based association of 160 CEOs of U.S. companies.

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