A few years ago I was deputed to attend a breakfast meeting and contribute my thoughts on Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR. (Exciting work, indeed; no, I didn’t volunteer.)
This was the then modish practice whereby companies hired people to burnish their image by persuading customers, and the outside world, that they were more ethical than they might otherwise have seen. Many of the oil companies, for example, invested millions in this; it is known, derisively, as “greenwash” by those unconvinced by their efforts.
One of the companies at the forefront of all this was BP. They even invested in a new corporate logo that looked a bit like a flower. The company’s business continued to be the pulling of hydro-carbons out of the ground, which according to your view is a job essential to allowing our civilisation to continue in its present form, or a hideous eco-crime. (I tend to the first view.)
History does not record how many were persuaded by the company’s efforts that it was anything other than what it was, a global oil producer. Now Lord Browne, who used to run BP, has declared that the era of CSR is over, that it didn’t work anyway and that no one within companies much believed in it either.
I am reminded of that breakfast. When asked for my views, I suggested that CSR was merely a form of political correctness, and largely meaningless. I produced as evidence BP’s decision to rename one of its Gulf of Mexico oil fields, which had been known as Crazy Horse.
This was out of respect for the Sioux leader and victor over Custer at Little Bighorn, after requests from Native Americans/First People/whatever we were then allowed to call the people known in my childhood as Red Indians. I said it was a foolish, empty gesture.
A man a couple of places down from me became restive. It turned out he worked for BP and was the executive responsible for the decision to rename the field. Oddly enough, he didn’t agree with me.
The joke is, though, that the geologists who named the field were not thinking of the Sioux leader. They actually named it after Neil Young’s backing band.