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In search of the good company

If you believe what they say about themselves, big companies have never been better citizens. In the past decade, 'corporate social responsibility' (CSR) has become the norm in the boardrooms of companies in rich countries, and increasingly in developing economies too. Most big firms now pledge to follow policies that define best practice in everything from the diversity of their workforces to human rights and the environment. Criticism of CSR has come mostly from those on the free-market right, who intone Milton Friedman's argument that the only 'social responsibility of business is to increase its profits' and fret that business leaders have capitulatedto political correctness. But in a new twist to the debate, a powerful critique of CSR has just been published by a leading left-wing thinker.

In his new book, Supercapitalism, Robert Reich denounces CSR as a dangerous diversion that is undermining democracy, not least in his native America. Mr. Reich, an economist who served as labour secretary under Bill Clinton and now teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, admits to a Damascene conversion, having for many years 'preached that social responsibility and profits converge over the long term'. He now believes that companies 'cannot be socially responsible, at least not to any significant extent', and that CSR activists are being divertedfrom the more realistic and important task of getting governments to solve social problems. Debating whether Wal-Mart or Google is good or evil misses the point, he says, which is that governments are responsible for setting rules that ensure that competing, profit-maximising firms do not act against the interests of society.

One after another, Mr. Reich trashes the supposed triumphs of CSR. Socially responsible firms are more profitable? Nonsense. Certainly, companies sometimes find ways to cut costs that coincide with what CSR activists want: Wal-Mart adopts cheaper 'green' packaging, say, or Starbucks gives part-time employees health insurance, which reduces staff turnover. But 'to credit these corporations with being "socially responsible" is to stretch the term to mean anything a company might do to increase profits if, in doing so, it also happens to have some beneficentimpact on the rest of society,' writes Mr. Reich.

Worse, firms are using CSR to fool the public into believing that problems are being addressed, he argues, thereby preventing more meaningful political reform. As for politicians, they enjoy scoring points by publicly shaming companies that misbehave - price-gouging oil firms, say - while failing to make real changes to the regulations that make such misbehaviour possible, something Mr. Reich blames on the growing clout of corporate lobbyists.

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Find the questions, define their types and function. | Read the text about different types of listening techniques. Complete the paragraphs using the sentences below. For each gap (1-6), mark one letter | Успешные люди родом из счастливого детства | Read the text below and develop the scheme for annotating all the information given. | Read the following article on intangible resources and for each question below (1-3) mark one letter (A, B or C). | Acquiring and Managing Financial Resources. | Человеческие ресурсы как фактор экономической эффективности предприятия | Putting your Values to the Test | Companies turn to ethics for competitive advantage | Социальная ответственность бизнеса и корпоративное управление |

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