Looking beneath a consulting firm's facade of objectivity
Laczniak agreed with Price, and added that large consulting firms like BCG may have even more responsibility, in a sense, than the companies they advise. He said that it would be useful if consulting agencies were to agree to abide by a set of industry-specific ethical principles, one of which would say that when giving advice to companies and the public, they would promise to include social and environmental factors in their analysis.
Others expressed skepticism that companies could be trusted to effectively self-regulate, and pointed to the need for other institutions to hold them accountable for their actions. Hira, for example, said he did not fault BCG for positioning itself as a non-partisan source of information when presenting the report. Rather, he said that it was the responsibility of the media to judge the content and present it accurately.
“There is a big failure here on the part of the mediating institutions,” he said. “They can’t just parrot this stuff without asking who is behind it.”
Others said it was the responsibility of the government to make sure companies are behaving in a responsible way. “I sort of take it for granted that they’re going to be telling firms how to make money,” Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said. “That’s why we have public policy: to make sure that firms are making profit by doing things that we want them to do.”
But Allen White, a senior fellow at the Tellus Institute, which advocates for sustainable development, and a co-founder of the Global Reporting Initiative, an effort to persuade companies to report on their social impact, said that the value of having CSR principles is that they often evolve into legislation.
“Government sees a set of norms emerging, and once they’re established, [government] says, “it’s time to codify them,’” White said.
An unacceptable status quo?
Ultimately, there was widespread agreement that the current state of affairs — in which a report that only reflects a one-dimensional value system can be treated as neutral and accepted uncritically — is not desirable.
“Imagine if they said, ‘whenever we’re going to put out a public report we’re going to do it in the broad sense,’” Laczniak said. “If they felt obligated to consider social responsibility as well as economic gain, they might have said, ‘Well, those jobs maybe shouldn’t have left in the first place.”