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Kervin’s Corner: Government needs to stay out of corporate social responsibility

“Companies are in the business of one thing and one thing only. And that’s the bottom line”

Time and again we’ve heard in our North Island region that natural resource companies — the likes of Western Forest Product (WFP) or Marine Harvest — have a social responsibility to local communities.

In fact, Port Hardy Mayor Hank Bood recently, and unfairly I might add, lambasted WFP by saying, “[r]ight now there has been a major change in the perception of the social licence we are giving WFP to operate, and I think it’s on you to make the big decisions that make the North Island comfortable.”

Let’s be clear here, he’s passing the buck. It’s government’s duty to make big decisions for our region. After all, that’s why residents voted our current representatives into office.

On top of that, MLA Claire Trevena has also taken steps against WFP. She states, “[t]he fact that our government is saying now that there has to be a social licence, that forest companies who are working in our communities have to be responsible to those communities, is a major step for those communities.”

Do we want to lose the biggest employer to the North Island region? Because continually slamming WFP will do exactly that — it’s causing an atmosphere that says, “we’re not open to the likes of you.”

This may be an unpopular opinion but it’s one that’s true: companies are in the business of one thing and one thing only. And that’s the bottom line; it’s about profit. Any donations to communities are thought to be a bonus — it certainly shouldn’t be expected from the get-go.

For example, Marine Harvest donated a quarter million dollars to Port Hardy’s multiplex project. Now, if local government had forced Marine Harvest to do so, then why would Marine Harvest have any incentive to stick around? If it was mandated, it’s a guaranteed profit loss. The fact, however, is that Marine Harvest — out of their own good will, mind you —chose to better our community.

Let’s not take that for granted by calling out other companies that choose not to do the same.

So when government decides to force companies to hold up their so-called social responsibility it causes unnecessary turmoil. And yet there seems to be this view that it’s within the sphere of government to strong-arm companies to do corporate social responsibility (CSR) and punish those who don’t practice it.

This brings up a central question — what is a company there for in the first place?

Of course, any business owner understands it’s about stakeholders, profits and increasing company value. It’s there to make a profit for the owners. It does however make sense that these companies need to be good corporate citizens, to make our society better in some way, too. But why call them out if they don’t? Leave them alone to decide what CSR means to their company; representatives shouldn’t dictate what that looks like.

Policy that aims to regulate companies to become socially responsible will generally be poor. And not to mention it only stifles genuine social responsibility from those few companies that choose to innovatively practice it, not out of obligation but out of an authentic effort to give back to the community.

So instead of wagging a finger at those who don’t necessarily hold the same social values, our representatives should encourage companies like WFP to see the value of giving back to communities and how important a role they have in community development.

Rather than ridiculing WFP for the wear-and-tear on our North Island highway because of their logging trucks, why not find alternatives for them to find a solution?

The moment government intervenes in our free market, stepping on the toes of integral companies to our economy, is the moment that poor decisions are made.

While WFP hasn’t donated largely to any community projects like the multiplex, they have provided much more than that — they’ve provided jobs to our region for decades. Not to mention they are involved in a number of local events, even if it means they’re simply sponsors. One thing is for certain, they’ve allowed so many employees to put food on their families tables and a roof over their heads. And that’s enough to say they’ve done their duty and given back.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.

* The views and opinions expressed in this opinion-editorial are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the North Island Gazette. If you have a different view, we encourage you to write to us to contribute to the discussion.

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