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Is your vendor socially responsible?

Apr 21, 20034 mins
Data Center

* Corporate ethics under the microscope

When you’re looking to buy new computer equipment, you commonly evaluate the device for its CPU, its MIPS and even the operating system.  Adding to the acronym frenzy, it’s becoming increasingly common for purchasing officers to look at a vendor’s CSR, too. CSR? That’s a term you won’t find in the technical manuals.  It stands for Corporate Social Responsibility. 

CSR refers to how “responsible” a company is when it comes to issues such as the environment, community involvement, charitable actions and the treatment of human capital.

With all of the corporate scandals of the past two or three years, it’s hard to believe that ethics and social responsibility are top-of-mind for many companies, but they are.  You see, many customers, partners and investors are beginning to look beyond the products and services a company offers to see what kind of corporate citizen the company is.  Customers and shareholders want to feel good about putting their money into a company that acts responsibly. 

When you buy computer products, of course you first want to evaluate potential products according to how well they meet your business needs.  But many items today are reaching commodity status, where there’s little differentiation in the products themselves.  Take desktop PCs as an example.  In this case, price might be your determining factor.

I’d like to suggest you dig deeper in evaluating your vendors.  Which company would you rather buy from – one with a history of polluting the environment, abusing human rights of foreign workers and ignoring the needs of its communities; or one that recycles computer components, provides fair treatment to all employees, and gives generously to charitable funds?

“Business Ethics” magazine provides an annual list of the “100 Best Corporate Citizens.” The companies on the list are highly rated for their CSR programs and actions. There are quite a few computer-related companies on the list. In fact, IBM and Hewlett-Packard are No. 1 and 2 for the year 2002. Other familiar names on the list include 3COM, Intel, Adobe Systems, Cisco, Lucent, Motorola, Network Appliance, and numerous others. View the entire list at

Companies have good incentive to strive for high ratings when it comes to corporate social responsibility.  Not only is it the right thing to do, there are significant financial motivations here as well. 

The investment community is becoming attuned to this fact.  Data developed through a survey conducted by “Ethical Corporation” magazine shows that CSR is a strategic activity that builds shareholder value and strengthens the brand.  It’s no coincidence that Dell’s stock went up on a day when an enhanced computer-recycling program was announced. 

Customers are equally concerned about CSR. HP last week announced that it has won a multimillion-dollar contract with the Swedish Agency for Public Management. In addition to price and quality considerations, HP said that it was selected because it met rigorous corporate social and environmental responsibility requirements set by the agency, which included factors such as accessibility for people with disabilities.

How can you judge how responsible your IT vendors are?  Ask them.  Before you sign the big contract, ask about recycling programs, support for accessibility, support for programs such as EnergyStar, and so on.  Companies that are active in these areas will have numerous achievements and awards to tell you about.  You’ll quickly be able to see which vendors pay lip service to CSR and which ones make it a priority for the company.

Other sources for CSR ratings and information include:

*, a personal finance site devoted to socially responsible investing(

* The Calvert Social Index from the Calvert Group, a company devoted to socially responsible investing (

* “Business Ethics” magazine, found online at

In this post-Enron/post-Worldcom era, you need to know that your vendors don’t just provide a product or service, but also operate ethically and with strong commitments to social responsibility.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at