Business Social Responsibility: Everybody’s Concern

By Maya Quiroga

During the 14th International Meeting about Historic Center Management and Administration.

HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba today, in response to the start of reestablishing diplomatic ties with the US, we’re beginning to talk about the interaction between art, culture and economy in a coherent way.

During the 14th International Meeting about Historic Center Management and Administration, the professor and researcher Rafael Betancourt, from Havana’s San Geronimo University College, presented a thesis on a socially responsible economy and its relevance on the island, from business entrepreneurship, a subject which has evolved recently, the fruit of new theories surrounding the issue of local development.

Betancourt, talked about corporate social responsibility in his presentation, a little-known concept here in Cuba, where many cooperatives are unable to create an integrated business strategy or what today is called “Triple Bottom Line”, that is to say, focussing on the company’s employees, on their external public (the community) and finding a balance between its assets and the environment.

The truth of the matter is that not even managers of many state companies or owners of the majority of private bars and restaurants – who offer their goods at almost unaccessible prices to the ordinary Cuban [who doesn’t receive remittances from abroad] – know the importance of creating an integrated business plan.

Community activities are held by the “Fabrica de Arte Cubano” private cultural business.

Today, there are extremely few state-run or private businesses who after receiving their monthly or annual profits and recovering their initial costs, focus on recycling raw materials, protecting the environment and local heritage or on carrying out activities which result in social benefits for the community where they work.

You just have to walk through the city to see that near the main entrance to some state-owned companies or private artist workshops there is a garbage bin, the pavement hasn’t been tarmacked or there’s a flower bed without any vegetation. Many of these companies’ directors and private businesspeople don’t show the least bit of interest in resolving these problems because they think that’s it not their responsibility to fix this.

Currently, from the Master Plan for Old Havana’s integrated revitilization, new strategies are being tried out for comprehensive development which includes a caring economy as one of the ways to create sustainable human development. In its trial phase, the institution which is overseen by the architect Patricia Rodriguez, approaches socially responsible micro businesses:

In front of a painter’s workshop in Vedado. Photo: Maya Quiroga

“The emerging power of these private small businesses can contribute a lot towards restoring our Historic Center. In fact, they can relieve some of the enormous maintenance burden off of the State. It’s a giant challenge which the whole country will have to face and therefore it’s necessary to be prepared,” says the architect.

For many years now, the Cuban government has taken on the role of the provider of the population’s social needs. In practice, all this has done is create a welfare and sometimes wasteful attitude and mentality in a people used to decades of paternalism.

Although you might not believe it, socially responsible businesses is everybody’s concern. A company will only be truly profitable when it reaches the Triple Bottom Line. Having a lot of personal gain isn’t worth anything if we’re not protecting the environment and our heritage or if we don’t carry out actions that benefit the communities we work in.

2 thoughts on “Business Social Responsibility: Everybody’s Concern

  • In the U.S. the triple bottom line is a marginal idea, a public relations tool used when needed to polish a corporate image. It is also a potentially strategic tool although it’s used this way less frequently than I would expect: For example, Coca-Cola could support the use of returnable bottles as a way to make it harder for firms to compete with them in the beverage market. The fact that it does not do this mystifies me.

    The problem with the triple bottom line is that it speaks to many activities, only some of which are priced. Business plans are based on priced activities. Nothing else is integrated in these plans. If they are discussed in the plans the reason is public relations. If a sugar-processing plant pollutes local groundwater, the cost of that pollution is not calculated (and who would pay for the research?), so when someone else notices the problem, the firm hires public relations consultants to communicate about the problem on behalf of the firm, for a while, until public concern dies down. A third party like the state must conduct the research, and a bill for the pollution must be presented to the firm, with payment to fix the damage enforced.

    Some may see this as unfair to companies as typically no one knows all of the consequences of a centralized manufacturing operation until it begins to operate. But over time, if a company’s investors know that they will be held financially responsible for the consequences of their actions, they will try to anticipate more of those consequences. Their imagination led to the construction of the factory. They just have to continue to think and imagine how their factory will interact with the community and the environment once it’s built. They will not do this thinking if they know they won’t be held responsible for their actions, which includes their knowing they will not be able to control the stories told about their actions in, say, commercial media.

    I don’t know what architect Patricia Rodriguez’s vision is of a caring economy. But if it is reflected in the final paragraphs of this article, then you will have a problem. If the writer is correct in stating that Cubans in general do not know about the triple bottom line, then the state’s attention and power must grow, not be replaced by benevolent private interests, to enforce its visionary scope, and then someone will have to watch the state. I’m suggesting you will have to look beyond the triple bottom line for the future you seek. It is not a panacea.

    In reality

  • In short, under the management of the Castro family communist regime, Cuba is crumbling, strewn with garbage and as Raul Castro said in 2013:
    “I have the bitter feeling that we are a society constantly more instructed but not necessarily more educated.”
    The regimes opposition to individual thought and action has developed a society where nobody cares.

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