Corporate Social Responsibility


By Ruth Jacobs

While corporate scandals often dominate headlines, some companies pride themselves on socially responsible business practices"and consumers are taking notice. But do companies who pledge "Corporate Social Responsibility"(CSR) really live up to their claims?

A year ago Colby students began exploring questions about CSR in Latin America in a Goldfarb Mealtime Seminar, one initiative of the new Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement. A collaboration between Patrice Franko (economics) and Ariel Armony (political science) garnered so much student interest that it continued the following fall as a one-credit course. Then, during Jan Plan, five students began the research that makes the project quintessential Goldfarb.

In the spirit of the center's emphasis on interdisciplinary study and faculty-student collaborative research, students landed in Santiago, Chile, in early January to research how U.S.-headquartered companies in Latin America practice CSR. During the spring semester the students will share their research with Armony and Franko, in a sense introducing findings to their professors. "What they're doing is they're taking the lead on it," said Franko. "We can think of it as a pilot study for our work." In May, the student researchers will present at Colby's Celebration of Scholarship.

Armed with the case studies provided by their students, Franko and Armony will conduct research during the summer and fall in Brazil and Argentina, respectively. All of the findings will be compiled for publication later this year"a final product that should list the students as collaborators if not co-authors.

More important, though, the project has given students"most of whom studied in Latin America as juniors"the chance to revisit old haunts with a new objective.