In the US, Toyota decided to stop sending money to the Food Bank, and instead sent its engineers. The success has been immediate: the car manufacturer’s staff made changes that reduced waiting times for food, sped up packing processes and even adjusted the size of food boxes for dispatch.
Closer to home, the PR company Lean Mean Fighting Machine has started a scheme called One in Sixty, in which it donates a minute of time to provide services for the charity Kid’s Company, for every hour it works for Unilever.
Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is now being encouraged by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which published a “call for views” last month. In it Jo Swinson, the Business Minister, expressed a desire “to make the UK the best place in the world to conduct responsible business”.
This month, the community outreach charity Business in the Community celebrates the first year of its Business Connectors scheme, in which people from the commercial sector are placed with organisations in local communities for a year to share their knowledge and expertise. So far, the scheme has placed 73 people from 21 companies in 55 deprived communities across England.
Patrick Mallon, a director of the BITC, says many firms no longer see financial results as the sole metric of success.
“The days of companies spending large amounts of cash in the community are certainly long gone,” he says. “They are now asking themselves, ‘what are the core things that are important for our business success and how can our engagement in society add to that?’”
It’s not purely selfless. Mallon points out that a number of those on the Connectors programme were quickly promoted after they returned. And although sceptics might dismiss it as an image-improving exercise, it can help corporations in the long term. Jaguar Land Rover saw that a decline in interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics among British secondary school pupils would ultimately have a negative (and costly) effect on their industry. Their scheme to promote the subjects reached 200,000 pupils last year.
All of which suggests, perhaps, that even in the business world, it pays to be nice...