In 1843 Charles Dickens wrote a classic novel about morality entitled ‘A Christmas Carol‘. It’s chief character Ebenezer Scrooge was a successful businessman, who was totally self focused on his business at the expense of his responsibility to his staff and the community.
I was watching the 1951 black and white version of the tale, and was struck by the wisdom of Dickens’ penmanship. In fact, much of his writing provides the basis upon which modern day debates on corporate social responsibility continue to rage.
They also echo some of the noble ambitions listed under the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and some of the modern day problems faced by those nations suffering from austerity.
On the steps of the financial center, Scrooge is met by a Mr Wilkins who owes him twenty pounds. Wilkins is asking for more time to pay, due to the time of year. To which Scrooge replies:
“Did I ask for more time to loan you the money? So why should you ask for more time to pay it back? Christmas has even less to do with it than your wife has or I have. You would still owe me twenty pounds and be in no position to pay if we were in the middle of a heat wave in August.” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
This logic may be applied to the arguments in the EU about the bail out of the Southern European nations, or for the long-term resistance from the developed world to forgive the debts of the emerging countries in Africa.
Here, Scrooge is setting the role of humanitarian support solely on the government and the individuals who require it. He also implies blame for the poverty of so many on the poor themselves, for procreating irresponsibly. Effectively saying, why should I be responsible for feeding, clothing and housing these people, when I had no say in them coming to the world in first place. Surely as we approach a planet of 7 billion, this is a subject that will come more and more to the fore.
“it’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
And here we have the most common argument businesses have against CSR – why do we need to do it. We have enough trouble trying to create profits, without having to take responsibilities from others.
Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
And a very interesting argument for a greater engagement from companies and their communities. It is a top-level ambition statement that many can understand, but would it truly be so successful in today’s day and age?
Interesting – I wonder if there is a need for an updated version of A Christmas Carol, one which explains Dicken’s morality in a context of international trade, stock markets and austerity.