CSR in Latin America Never far from Political
And then there is politics, as inescapable in Latin America as…. Well, choose the metaphor you like most, while I discretely decline to generalize.
One thing I will say, is that Latin America politics, more often than not, are about big personalities in small ponds. Presidents don’t just set the tone, they set the trend line, they ”manda la gente”. They are the Deciders-in-chief not just for government but often the Decider in-Chief of All.
Ok, I exaggerate to make a point, but participant after participant here at the conference relate the great importance government takes, often unilaterally, setting out national economic agendas. If the government says CSR, then CSR it is.
If Hugo Chaves decrees, as he recently did, that all businesses must do CSR, well then they have to, no matter how few know what to do or how. Here at CSR Americas, the President of Ecuador mentioned the importance of CSR, thus reinforcing/setting policies, official and unofficial.
Right Reason, Wrong Way?
Who cannot be of mixed opinion about mixing politics and business? I certainly am, for in Latin America, like in other regions of the world, the political pendulum can swing hard, and often from one direction to the other, making one guy’s policies obsolete in favor of another’s in a matter of a couple years. Remember, I am from Canada, where we swing ten inches from the centre every twelve years or so!
Business and CSR needs more consistency than this.
Of course, and on the other hand, government support of CSR, however well thought-out or not, does propel interest and action, some of which will outlast regime change. Nevertheless, it’s always better that companies see CSR as an advantage. But, after 25 years promoting CSR, sometimes a swift kick in the corporate butt works for me too.
Multinational companies in Latin America, propelled more by developed country CSR demand, already get it and whatever corporate headquarters “manda” to Latin American, well, it gets done. Nestles’ CSR programmes (an exhibition hall neighbor with a really organic stand unlike the more plastic ones of Pepsi and Coke across the aisle) are a case in point. Many activities of Nestles CSR activities are company- wide while being sensitive to local issues, creating the company CSR brand of Creating Shared Value. Always more to do but, nicely done! Other companies offer some good local and international CSR activities but have yet to really smack the CSR Brand out of the park.
These multinationals are way head of the game and don’t really have to worry about the politics of CSR. Large, national Latin American companies, once isolated from the demands of CSR, are often family-owned and knitted tightly into the national political economic maia (net). With these companies, government dictates are very influential, as their fate is far more tied to the local market and to what the government says.
This is not to say that multinationals do not pay attention to what the President says. They do very much so, only in terms of CSR they are often just so far ahead of any national CSR decree that policy often acts to legitimize and propel their positioning and brand in the national market. Many national frms are left to catch up.
Don’t let me leave you with the perception that there are no CSR leadership companies in Latin America. There are many. BAC Credimatic, Repsol, Telefonica Movistar, and CEMEX, among a handful of others, got some game, and I encourage you to check them out.
How businesses have survived and thrived in such a political environment is quite incredible. But they have. And my guess is that it’s because successful businesses keep an eye on what matters, in spite of what political craziness is going on around them.
It’s my sense, and that of many others here at CSR Americas, that CSR is now, along with other things, important to business, written on the face of that clock and subject to the swinging chain below.