Changing Corporate World

February 3, 1971

Report Outline
Society's Challege to Corporations
Evolution of U.S. Business Attitudes
Coming Decisions for Executive Suites
Special Focus

Society's Challege to Corporations

Demands on Companies to Show Social Concern

American corporations seemed an unlikely place only a short time ago for the phrase “social responsibility” to fall from every lip. Yet hardly any business executive neglects the phrase in his speeches these days. It is true that there may be no precise understanding among the listeners as to how the words would be applied. But the very fact that they are spoken at all says much about the state of the corporate world. Business leaders are changing, whether grudgingly or willingly, to meet some of the changing attitudes of society.

Business literature is replete with self-analysis and wonderment in the midst of attack from many sides. Corporation executives seem no less puzzled than many other Americans as to why young people entering the labor force—even in a time of job scarcity—are less enchanted with the so-called Protestant ethic of hard work and upward striving than their parents and grandparents. Consumerism is another current of opinion the business community must reckon with. By no means confined to the young, it is questioning and perhaps tarnishing some cherished notions about mass production, advertising and planned obsolescence. Not only that, company management now is beginning to recognize a need to answer the public, not just some legal authority, for industrial pollution or discriminatory hiring.

A corporation can sometimes be goaded into taking remedial action, whether from a bad conscience or from fear of bad publicity. The latter may entail such attendant problems as a product boycott or, in extreme cases, a factory or office bombing. But if “business as usual” is no longer the order of the day, it can also be said that “corporation democracy” has not yet arrived, at least not fully enough to satisfy those who advocate it as a way of making big business responsive to the demands of society at large. To management, extreme responsiveness may mean shrunken profits, or none at all. Where should its allegiance lie, with the stockholder or the citizen?

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
General Employment and Labor
Investment and the Stock Market