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Is Occupy Wall Street Really About CSR?

Since the movement began, people have discussed goals/themes/demands of Occupy Wall Street and have found little clarity. In some ways this is the essence of the movement, but in an effort to define everything, many people assume it’s the anger of the common person directed towards banks for manipulating their money and tanking the economy. This is probably not incredibly far off. However there’s been a bunch of chatter on the interwebs recently about this movement really being about corporate social responsibility. Why aren’t businesses acting in a manner that their customers and society at large find beneficial?

Just a few days ago, Paul Klein over at Forbes wrote an article on this very issue articulating that what the Occupy Wall Street group(s) really stand for is responsible business practices. Klein asserts that the issues are even greater than CSR, rather about businesses fulfilling a social purpose. While that maybe true, the difference between getting a business to fulfill a social purpose and to stop screwing you with completely unnecessary fees are rather large and we should probably make sure we don’t put the cart before the horse.

However, the point is well taken because if you head over to the Occupy Wall Street website and take a minute to peruse their “manifesto” you’ll notice that much of the issues/concerns that the group(s) hold in high regards are basic reforms due to how a variety of private sector institutions are currently conducting business. Whether you agree with the instruments of the movement or not, it would be incredibly difficult to disagree with the egregious human rights and environmental damage that the big businesses being targeted by the movement have committed over the last few decades. Much of these issues encompass the same CSR concerns we talk about daily and many of them have to do with basic human rights. In fact, in reading the Declaration of the Occupation of New York, it almost sounds like the companies broke a human contract – one that we are all taught at a very early age, specifically, be mindful of and responsible for your actions.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are many out there that will argue that businesses only have a responsibility to shareholders to maximize profits. And while that argument may not be incorrect (they still teach this philosophy in business schools around the world), it is surely outdated and potentially damaging to both business and society as we may currently be seeing. It seems as though this movement is both as specific as to address the $5 fee that Bank of America slapped on to its account holders last month and as general as business have greater responsibilities than making money and even if that were the case, they should make money in a more responsible way as they are the drivers of the economy and an economy this bad isn’t even good for Goldman Sachs.

Image Credit by Gijs Joost Brouwer via Flickr under a CC license

Written by Jonathan Banco

Jonathan has worked in both journalism and various facets of small business development over the past eight years. Most recently, he graduated from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (graduate school of Middlebury College) in 2010 with an MBA and an MA in International Development Policy. His interests include SME development and its role in economic growth, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as how CSR/Sustainability measures impact both business operations and the communities in which businesses operate. While at MIIS he worked as a summer fellow involved in small business consulting in Accra, Ghana and was an active member of the MIIS Net Impact chapter. As a life long traveler, Jonathan has been fortunate to have lived in, worked in or visited over 20 countries on 5 continents and he truly hopes that he will be able to continue this trend.


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