Yet again, what we see is not what we get. According to the annual
survey of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the
voluntary sector now employs one in 50 of the UK workforce.
Expenditure on services and campaigning has almost doubled in 10
years to £21bn – an infrastructure supported by three million
volunteers and 200,000 community groups not registered as
Tony Blair once divided the 20th century in two. In the first half,
the country learned it could not achieve its aims without the help
of government, he said. In the second, the government recognised it
could not achieve its aims without the help of the voluntary
Altruism is alive and well – except when it comes to the corporate
world. There, the flower of civic responsibility refuses to bloom.
A new survey says that the public believes about a quarter of
charitable income comes from companies. In reality, it is just over
4 per cent.
Annual surveys of corporate giving in The Guardian show
that just 0.2 per cent of pre-tax profit is donated to charities.
In the US, companies give five times as much.
Chancellor Gordon Brown said two weeks ago that he would attempt to
stir business to donate more money, and to allow employees to give
more of their time and skills to charitable causes.
It is more than an “attempt” that’s required. On so many aspects of
social care, the major companies have been allowed to get away with
a minimal investment in the well-being of the society of which they
are a part.
Take child care. In other parts of Europe, employers contribute up
to a third of the cost. Not here. Is there flexibility in the UK
workplace to allow carers to meet their commitments? It is
difficult to see a widespread pattern. Seconding management to
voluntary projects? An unexpected bonus rather than an expected
pattern of behaviour.
Sponsorship is the exception rather than the rule.
Government and industry should draw up a charter of social
responsibility which sets out a checklist including financial
donations, sharing of skills, support of their own workforce, and
sponsorship commitments. This is information that should be readily
accessible to customers and clients.
Mouthing about corporate social responsibility has brought enormous
kudos to large companies, and increased profits. But too many have
bought their reputation too cheaply. Trumpeting “We Care” in ads
and billboards isn’t enough. It’s concrete evidence that’s