Paul French
Paul French

Price and quality might be leading criteria for Chinese consumers, but surprisingly social responsibility of producers is also an issue. Author Paul French points in at two recent surveys, featuring increasing social conscience in Asia and China.

Paul French:

Why do these findings seem surprising? Because the loud voices shouting about responsibility tend to be western. However, those who shout loudest are not necessarily those who care most.

In China, blogging aggressively about air and water pollution, toxic spills and “outing” poorly performing companies with strong links to the government requires a certain level of bravery. Recriminations may occur, even if the censors allow you space to vent. Newspapers, magazines and TV shows tend to avoid the problem – it’s hard, if not impossible, to talk about the state of China’s environment, workers’ rights, labour conditions and poverty without criticising Beijing at some point and possibly facing retribution.

Western consumers, on the other hand, have freedom of expression and a free media to voice their concerns. This means the chatter on TV, in the newspapers and across the internet is so much noisier and in your face than it is in much of Asia. This can lead to two things: 1) we naturally assume that people are more corporate-responsibility-aware in the west because we hear about it more and debate it intensely and 2) seeking out and buying products from brands with corporate responsibility agendas in the west is far less of a conscious political act than it is in more repressive countries, such as China…

Of course there’s a problem with these two surveys, and others of the same kind. They are all about “intention” rather than “action”. Rates of actually buying products linked to corporate responsibility campaigns remain highest in the EU and US. Again there are specific issues – in China few local companies champion their CSR (where they do it) as part of their wider brand building strategy and actually finding affordable (rather than very expensive imported) products that fit the criteria can be a problem. In India awareness may be high but availability of products and services with clear corporate responsibility policies is lower than in the west.

But then, as my school sports teacher always told me as I missed another clear shot at goal or fell over in the mud, showing willing is extremely important.

More in Ethical Corp.

Paul French is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers´request form.

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