Going beyond Corporate Social Responsibility

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The software seems to be indeed eating the world, and our presence and activities are getting more and more digitized by the second. The high pace of change doesn’t leave much room for pondering on all the implications of the new normal.

And while it feels as if it were just yesterday that companies started enacting their Corporate Social Responsibility manifestos on a broader scale, companies may already need to complement said policies.
What, in fact, is Corporate Digital Responsibility?

Corporate Digital Responsibility (or CDR in short) is, broadly speaking, a set of values and rules that organizations use to govern their use of data and digital technology. CDR certainly includes the compliance level rules and policies; however, it is much more than that. It also involves organizational commitment to develop and use technology and data to benefit all the stakeholders and society at large.

Why is CDR necessary?

Companies and other organizations have been going through digital transformation for a while now, even before the COVID pandemic. And while technology offers great tools if used properly, they could also be perceived as threats in certain circumstances. The latter is true regardless of who uses the technology (humans or AI; however, it seems the perceived fear might be more significant in the case of artificial intelligence).

Furthermore, we often feel that more convenient technology will somehow remove bottlenecks within traditional channels (think about access to justice, for example). However, we can also forget that not everyone has the same access to technology as we do, which perpetuates societal inequalities.

With the increased pace of digitalization, public awareness grows about potential issues and risks. More often than not, prior Corporate Social Responsibility frameworks haven’t considered technology and data handling. However, the recent changes and disruptive trends are calling for a quick reaction in that matter.

CSR and CDR – are they separate or inseparable concepts?

CDR is dynamic and constantly in development, so answering the above question isn’t easy. Some, however, consider CDR to be an extension of CSR, the latter being more of an “umbrella” notion. Others cite CDR’s nature and unique background as the reason to consider it an entirely novel phenomenon, one that requires its tools, values, and methods.

Suppose you are (hopefully) considering introducing CDR into your company’s set of values. In that case, it is enough to understand, for starters, that CDR focuses on digital aspects of doing business and interaction with stakeholders. At the same time, CSR takes a broader approach towards the community. Arguably, the two sets of guidelines could have some overlaps, depending on the organization in question. However, every sound Corporate Digital Responsibility policy would have to consider some basic principles.

Critical aspects of a CDR policy

Rob Price, a Director at Alchemmy, a Business and Digital Transformation Consulting business, laid out a Corporate Digital Responsibility Manifesto and defined CDR cornerstones.

According to Rob, Corporate Digital Responsibility is “a set of practices and behaviors that help an organization use data and digital technologies in ways that are perceived as socially, economically, and environmentally responsible.”

Furthermore, Rob elaborated what a CDR framework, in his view, should advocate and communicate within the Manifesto’s core principles, namely:
Purpose and trust

According to the Manifesto, organizations should provide a clear public statement demonstrating their intent to impact society positively. However, just stating the goal wouldn’t be as helpful as showing the organization’s specific measures and steps to drive positive changes (e.g., a CDR committee; organizing events that educate relevant stakeholders of essential aspects of CDR, etc.).

Fair and equally open access for all

This principle dictates, among other issues, that organizations should strive to build products accessible on equal footing to all stakeholders. Practically, this would impact the process of product design, as said digital tools should be inclusive to various societal groups and subcultures.

However, this principle also reaffirms all employees’ fair treatment and inclusion, which should yield a diversity of thinking, leading to more lateral solutions to novel business challenges.

Protection and digital wellbeing to all

Beyond merely focusing on data protection compliance, companies should find ways to further digital literacy and access to digital tools, processes, and benefits. Handling data should be transparent and responsible for promoting peace of mind for all the stakeholders within and outside an organization.

Economic footprint in mind

Company decisions produce economic and societal impact, and organizations should keep that in mind at all times. Especially in the age of digitalization and automation, where specific workforce segments could be affected by digital automation tools, organizations should strive to minimize any adverse effects and opt to grow sustainably.

Furthermore, in cases where AI facilitates automation, organizations need to ensure no biases, whether inbuilt in algorithms or reached through data training.

Fostering demand for sustainable products

Organizations should take steps to provide viable options and educate and promote the demand for sustainable products that have little to no adverse ecological effect. In other words, a greater emphasis on GreenTech, cleantech, low-waste products and packaging, and otherwise investing in initiatives that promote positive environmental changes.

Creating & maintaining a sustainable world

Organizations should strive to reach and go beyond the carbon-neutral status. While doing so, they should benchmark and report business impact against relevant UN environmental standards.

Reducing technological impact on climate

Companies should promote the use of circular economy and strive to prolong products’ lifecycles. Likewise, to the extent possible, they should shift to renewable energy sources and generally have in place an environmental IT Strategy.

So what does it all mean?

As we dive deeper into the digital, organizations must consider all the changes’ effects. The use of technology can yield profound results, helping us tap into the vast human creative potential, all while companies act on future impacts and externalities. With proper planning, companies can ensure that “disruption” becomes more akin to a natural evolution of business processes and models.

 

ivan.rasic@stp-online.de

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