July 10, 2001
Americans Increasingly Interested in Corporate Citizenship
by Mark Thomsen
Survey indicates that Americans are looking for good corporate citizens, but are having difficulty
A majority of Americans consider corporate citizenship when they make investment and purchasing
decisions, but relatively few feel that American companies stand out as good corporate citizens.
Those are some of the results of a recent study of American attitudes toward corporate social
practices, commissioned by the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton.
findings suggest that corporations need to do more than simply give away dollars," said Harlan
Teller, executive vice president and director of Hill and Knowlton's Worldwide Corporate practice.
"They need to act in ways that are meaningful to their stakeholders - consumers, investors,
employees, and members of the local community - and that genuinely demonstrate their core corporate
Entitled "2001 Corporate Citizen Watch," the survey was conducted in April 2001
through Harris Interactive. The survey involved interviewing 2,594 Americans aged 18 or older via
the Internet. According to Suzanne Laurita, Hill and Knowlton USA's Director of Marketing,
respondents to the nine-question survey were an accurate statistical representation of the U.S.
The study revealed that 71 percent of the respondents consider corporate
citizenship in their investment decisions. More relevant to social investors, 12 percent said they
would buy the stock of socially responsible companies even if it meant accepting lower financial
returns. The survey also found that almost four out of five Americans take corporate citizenship
into account when deciding whether to buy a particular company's product, with over 36 percent
considering it an important factor.
While the survey indicates a majority of people
consider corporate citizenship in their investment and consumption decisions, a majority also
perceive U.S. corporate citizenship performance as average or below average. About 53 percent of
those surveyed said U.S. companies are below average in terms of corporate citizenship performance.
Only 27 percent said U.S. companies were above average, and less than 2 percent regarded U.S.
companies as excellent corporate citizens.
Regarding charity, respondents seemed to be
very cynical about corporate motives. Three out of four people said companies participated in
charitable or philanthropic activities to get good publicity. Fewer than 25 percent of those
surveyed believe companies donate time and money because they are truly committed to charitable
Cynicism can also be found about the commissioner of the study itself. Some
observers find it ironic that Hill and Knowlton is the source of a survey on corporate citizenship.
John Stauber, founder and Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit PR
watchdog, said "Hill and Knowlton has a long history of representing all sorts of nefarious
polluting industries and repressive third-world regimes."
Perhaps the most infamous
example of this was Hill and Knowlton's pro-Kuwait PR campaigns launched after Iraq's invasion of
Kuwait in 1990. Among its many activities, Hill and Knowlton coached the daughter of the Kuwaiti
ambassador to lie to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus about witnessing Iraqi soldiers throwing
babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital. The lie was not revealed until after the Gulf War
Regardless of Hill and Knowlton's muddy past, the 2001 Corporate Citizen Watch survey seems to
be based on valid methodology and indicates increasing public interest in good corporate
citizenship. Perhaps a time may come when the PR giant finds it more lucrative to promote good and
clean corporate practices rather than obfuscate dirty ones.