Business Response to Natural Disasters


There’s a long list of American companies that have stepped up to help victims of Harvey. Inc. published a list of 25 ( for starters. From cash to relief supplies, business is responding to the challenge. The mainstream business press is touting this as a great example of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Most of my colleagues know that I’m suspicious of the entire notion of CSR—the idea that business has a responsibility to “give back” to society. Some has asked if my position has changed, or if I think these companies should not have responded to the need. They are missing the point.

CSR is about an obligation to spend company resources on initiatives that do not promote a firm’s financial interests. The choice to do so is a different matter, as long as the shareholders agree. But company contributions to relief efforts in response to a natural disaster are generally in their best interest. Bass Pro Shops is in a great position to offer boats, Home Depot can deliver emergency equipment, and Walgreens can provide medical supplies. These companies are showing off their talents, and others that simply contribute cash also look like good corporate citizens. You might not be a fan of Walmart, but it’s difficult to argue that the company is evil when management writes a $10 million check for Harvey victims.

Does this mean that company executives are not responding to the devastation out of genuine compassion? I’m sure many are, although one cannot tell for certain in any given situation. But my original point remains the same: these companies are not obligated to do anything. They might take action as a goodwill measure, as a sincere attempt to help those in need, or as some combination of the two. Their efforts should be applauded and will continue to be important with Irma, but they should not be confused with CSR.



  1. jerry_x  •  Sep 9, 2017 @12:01 PM

    Corporate America steps up to the plate. This is why we need a strong business community.

  2. TCR  •  Sep 11, 2017 @12:31 PM

    They’ll step up in Florida also. Time to stop demonizing business.