Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Smoking CSR

PR people are fiendishly clever. Most of what they do is now called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It's a fluffier, friendlier type of PR. People are mostly cynical about PR, but are at worst confused when confronted with CSR (sukses!).

Generally I don't care for motives when individuals, countries or companies do genuine good. If a company gets some good PR through helping a community out everyone wins.

What I do care about, is when a company like Sampoerna (large Indonesian cigarette maker) spends millions on high profile CSR on the one hand, but on the other, is the biggest killer of Indonesians bar none.

Does Sampoerna support lung cancer research or cigarette education? Of course not, it wants to bury its wrongs and its victims in glitzy PR.

I wonder how much it would cost to hire a PR firm on a retainer basis to make the victims of Sampoerna higher profile? What a worthwhile pro bono CSR project that would be! What about it chaps? Use your skillz to help the little guys!


Dewi Susanti said...

The case of Sampoerna Foundation (SF) may represent how ‘bad’ (cigarette, mining, production, etc.) companies conduct CSR. They do ‘bad’ things in one area (in the case of SF, the family got rich from tobacco industry), and channeled some profit to do ‘good’ things in another (in SF case the field of education – where currently they happen to be one of the main leader in educational foundation in Indonesia.)

Do you think it’s necessary for ‘bad’ companies to conduct CSR directly related to their area of industries? Or your concern is broader – meaning that ‘bad’ companies would better reduce, stop, or even be banned from doing ‘bad’ business instead of doing CSR?

Denica said...

it happens that there's 2 of the Sampoerna owner's grandchildren who goes to my school. and everyday we can see them being picked up by glamorous typical-jakarta socialites with their shiny new cars.

and yes i do agree with you regarding their PR practices. it happens that they have this foundation that provides education for drop out children, and yes i dont see them using their large ad campaign bucks for anti-lung cancer research like u mentioned.

mukuge said...

well, it's logical to assume SF was created partly to 'atone' for whatever bad deeds Sampoerna has committed. However, it's interesting to note the ownership of Sampoerna (esp the tobacco business) has been sold to BA Tobacco some years ago. This means the Sampoerna brand has the indirect benefit of SF's social responsibility campaigning; whether this effect is apocryphal or unintended is still unclarified.

I was quite shocked, too, when I found out SF was owned by the Sampoerna group and 'rokok Sampoerna' wasn't - probably because I had always associated 'Sampoerna' with 'rokok' and 'rokok' with 'bad'.

One of my friends works in SF as a project manager in education, so he does know first hand about the amount of money that flows through the foundation. And yes, apparently SF even sends students to study in universities as far (and prestigious) as Oxbridge :))

Dewi Susanti said...


The reason I asked John the question was because I also know some people working at SF, and from what I know the foundation is unrelated to the tobacco company, with the exception of the family name being carried over (and I guess the seed funds from the family).

Currently, SF gets funding from other companies to promote better education in Indonesia, and from what I know, it has worked really well in this area. Which leaves us with the dilemma in my first comment.

johnorford said...

I knew that Sampoerna was bought out, but thought the cigarette company was still a major donor (cos I thought they must get some benefit from the foundation's good deeds).

Well the way I feel is, if an a group of ppl has a debt to pay to society, then they should repay in kind (in this case, cancer healthcare) rather than brushing the problem under the carpet.

Thing is, the Sampoerna family (and the company for that matter) doesn't do this, I suspect it avoids the issue of lung cancer like the plague.

Dewi Susanti said...

While I agree that ideally all ‘bad’ companies should repay in kind, I don’t think their doing good things in whatever forms they voluntarily choose should be judged against the bad things they have done. We all know that the two are not compatible in kind. But even if the two are compatible in kind, I don’t think it will undo the damage unless, in addition, the ‘bad’ companies stop practicing whatever bad things they do. But in my view, it’s better for them to do good things in whatever forms they voluntary choose than for them to do nothing.

johnorford said...

i agree that doing csr is better than doing nothing.

an analogy would be that a palm oil firm flattens whole communities in kalimantan for their palm oil plantations, then does some csr program in a kampung in west java -- and comes out smelling of roses (in fact Sampoerna does have a palm oil business in Kalimantan - altho i don't know much about its record).

that's how i see Sampoerna's cigarette heritage and SF.

smart, yes. better than nothing, yes. deserving of my respect and admiration - god no!

miund said...

well apparently the term itself created confusions and could blow up huge conflicts even between strangers.

the way i see CSR now is no different than the way i see 'non-profit organizations'. you know, those that pay a lot of money to their 'employees' while the cash should really go straight to the needy. oh, not to mention when their 'higher-ups' are visiting. they put them in five-star hotels such as the four seasons. in my view, these so-called 'VIPs' should really learn how to live in minimum facilities rather than splurging on an air-conditioned room with cable TV and broadband internet. if that happens, then i'll rethink about gaining respect for such organizations.

sorry to go off the topic, but indeed, i agree with you. CSR is generally Crappy-Senseless-Rubbish. Ha!

johnorford said...

well u hit upon a v good point there.

basically it's v hard to know how efficient a charitable organisation is. the biggest are marketed v well, evoke warm fuzzy feelings in their benefactors, but are the benefactors getting a good bang for their buck? no one knows!

miund said...

my point might be good for some, but it ticks off humanitarian workers very easily.

whatever. for me, it's not a career choice. i'd rather work for those stupid companies that hold the shitty CSR thing -that way i know that at least they're really making money rather than stealing the dough from the REAL needy.

and yeah, i turned down the job offer i mentioned in my blog. HAHAHAHA!