Are Jamaicans socially responsible as their friends up North?

How socially responsible are Jamaican small businesses? Socially responsible what? To some, this is a totally foreign concept. But what it really means is that for a company to be socially responsible, it needs to provide goods and services in line with the society’s values. For those socially responsible businesses in the Jamaica, they are partly or wholly concerned about how customers are protected and how employees are treated. For others, that is as far as it goes. Well, according to a survey released, Tuesday, by Penn Schoen Berland, Landor Associates, and Burson-Marsteller, more that than 75 percent of consumers say that it is important for companies to be socially responsible. And despite the recession, this Second Annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Perceptions Survey, which tested consumer views of companies in 14 industries ranging from Apparel to Telecommunications, says consumers continue to prioritize social responsibility across business sectors, and 55 percent are more likely to choose a product that supports a certain cause when choosing between otherwise similar products. Moreover, 38 percent of respondents still plan to spend the same or more for products and services from socially responsible companies, and 70 percent are willing to pay more for a $100 product from a company they regard as responsible. The bottom-line is that if you are a socially responsible company, then your cash register will be more active often than those who don’t. Clear as day, isn’t it? But the cynics among us might say that is an American reality, and it doesn’t reflect the reality in Jamaica! I dare say they are wrong. Since the severing of our phantom umbilical cord from our surrogate mother, the British Empire, we have adopted Big Brother America as our role model. Thus, it has become ever since our reality that if someone sneezes in any remote part of America, we down here in Jamaica catches a cold. Case in point:
  • Recession hits America… Jamaicans immediately start losing their jobs (redundancies by the thousands)… businesses begin close… the economy starts to contract… and soon, many of us have got to adopted a “chicken-chassis” lifestyle (aka ghetto stake!).
  • Mad cow diseases hits America… Jamaicans all over starts checking their genealogy to decide if they related to the bovine species… because everybody starts protecting themselves from possible madness.
  • Bird flu hits America… and suddenly, Jamaicans starts growing feathers and starts scratching around in the earth for something for possible remedies.
  • Guns made in America… suddenly everyone wants an American-made guy either to protect himself or herself, or a more sinister plan is afoot to shoot start shoot him brother or sister down… welcome to the killing fields.
I could continue the list, but what’s the point? Case closed. Now, when it comes to being socially responsible, many small Jamaican businesses, even some medium and large-sized ones too, seem only a few fall in line when it become mainstream and fashionable to do so, because, as you know, we are the perennial wagonists… never the trendsetter (and I am not here talking about Reggae music and our athletic prowess, etc.). I am talking about the small business sector, which should be taking its rightful place at the forefront of entrepreneurship, but sadly, it’s came up short. So far, I have known of any mechanism in place for small businesses to communicate their CSR efforts with consumers as effectively as they could, and it all depends of whether any such effort is in place. Well let’s say, for argument sake, that they do have their CSR policy in place, then it would be good if such a social responsibility agenda were posted on their website. Website what? The word “Website” is like a boogieman's word. Something that one avoids at all cost. Tell some small business persons that they need to put up a website, and it’s like you have asked them to jump off the 13th floor of a high-rise building with safety harnesses. Some months ago, I was at a small business seminar where it was disclosed that nearly 95 percent of small businesses in Jamaica don’t have a website. The figure was slightly higher for those who actually have eMail addresses. So, if you are thinking about randomly checking on Jamaican businesses to finding out whether they have a CSR agenda in place, don’t bother to waste your time… changes are you’ll never seven seen their names come up in a Google search. Now, if our small business sector operatives had both their CSRs and websites in place and were made to communicate their efforts, I believe they would have had the opportunity to influence consumer perceptions… seeing as 75 percent of consumers who have read about a company’s social responsibility agenda on its website indicated that it made them more likely to purchase products or services from that company. Other key findings of the study show:
  • Of 14 tested industries, Food, Consumer Goods and Retailers are perceived as performing best, while Financial Services, Healthcare and Media are perceived as performing worst.
  • Seventy-Two Percent say they will make some sacrifices in their spending or in their salary to support social responsibility.
Since we take our cue from the Americans, then we ought to better start taking heed and show how social responsible we are. Otherwise, we’ll be after the path of the dinosaurs. So, my small business colleagues, it’s time! Start putting your brick-and-mortars in order, and get ready to set course for the new business frontier of cyber sphere… and please remember… be socially responsible on your journey!

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