Reich v. Vogel: Is CSR Responsible?


Now this is why I came to Haas. And, well, back to school, in general.

Earlier this week, some hundreds of students, professors, and folks around Berkeley gathered with much anticipation on a balcony at Haas, awaiting a debate between Robert Reich and David Vogel on the question "Is CSR Responsible?" (And for Chipotle burritos - yum!)

While some went straight for the burrito line, I hurried to the front to get a primo seat from which I could photograph Robert Reich, the 22nd US Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, and David Vogel, professor of Business Ethics.

As you can see, I made a wise choice.
After the audience arranged itself, spilling through the doorways and around the stage, Dean Rich Lyons introduced the two very special guests.

I won't transcribe the notes I furiously wrote during the debate, but I'll share my general summary of their position.

Robert Reich: Arguing 'no' to the question "Is CSR Responsible?"
1) Corporations often lobby for policies that undermine their CSR efforts. In other words, although a company may be funding an school breakfast program, it's likely it also is seeking tax benefits that are reducing public school funding in the first place*.
2) Public policy is the real key to achieving measurable change.
3) A 'mutual de-escalation' of lobbying is essential

David Vogel: Arguing that CSR is responsible.
1) CSR manages responding to non-market pressures to engage in policies aligned with public pressure.
2) Companies' efforts awaken the consumer, ultimately resulting in a public policy push.
2) Companies can make a larger impact that individual efforts.

Afterwards, students from Haas, Boalt (Law), Goldman (Public Policy), Environmental Science, and other disciplines lined up to ask probing questions.

Who won? We all did. The debate was thoroughly thought-provoking. As my friend Jason and I walked towards Bear's Lair, we had an energized conversation about all that we had learned.

*Entirely fictional examples made up by me.


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