[Image via coporate.target.com]
To demonstrate corporate social responsibility means corporations actively assess and “take responsibility for the company’s effects on environmental and social well-being” (Investopedia, 2017). Corporate social responsibility is a practice that has taken business by storm. Many say that it has become imperative for companies to adopt ethical, socially aware, and environmentally aware business practices. Why? Simply put, consumer behavior has changed. The population of consumers is rapidly aging, and the newest majority group of consumers—the millennials—value companies whose ideals align with their own. These values are drastically different than the generations before them, and emphasize social awareness. While many companies adopt CSR practices for the sole purpose of gaining loyal followers of millennial customers, there are some brands that strive to embody corporate social responsibility as a joint effort to help their business and help the communities around it. Target is an example of such a corporation.
Target is a company that has long been associated with corporate social responsibility. The company has received a number of awards for their efforts in CSR, most recently including being named one of the World’s Most Admired Companies, an Energy Star Partner of the Year, and one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies (Target, 2017). Built off of an overwhelming sense of community, giving, and service, Target takes pride in creating a positive employee environment, impacting communities around them, and being a cultural and social leader worldwide. Target demonstrates corporate social responsibility by cultivating wellness and education, emphasizing diversity and inclusivity, committing to environmentally sustainable operational practices, and being involved in community services.
There’s a long list of examples I could give as to why this company conducts business in a socially responsible way, but I will stick to just a few. This corporation realizes the importance of being healthy, especially in a world that suffers from obesity and various health issues that come from leading unhealthy lifestyles. Target emphasizes healthy living, from the organic foods and exercise merchandise they carry to their involvement in funding healthy lunches for impoverished areas and bicycling commuting programs. Also an advocate for education—something too often put on the back burner in local and national government expenditures—Target has donated a number of their earnings towards schools each year. Most recently, they raised $5 billion worth of supplies, food, field trips, books, and money for schools around the United States (Target, 2017). This fundraiser is not their only service to the community. They have a number of volunteer opportunities for associates to get involved in locally and nationally.
At the core of Target is its team. Target is very selective in the individuals that they hire—not because they are discriminative, but because they hire individuals with the ideals that their company has: a sense of community, inclusiveness, and service to others. Target has frequently been named one of the best places to work, and encourages diversity amongst its staff. Equality is also a topic of importance to Target. The company was notoriously known for having gender neutral, well, most things. From bathrooms to toy aisles, Target is not shy about supporting LGBT rights and trying to make everyone feel included, even when they received backlash for their decisions. They do not waver in their stances and apologize for having their own opinions, even if some customers frown upon it. When it comes to marketing, Target makes an effort to be inclusive as well. Target has run quite a few campaigns that targeted Hispanic culture and families, so they would feel comfortable shopping with the retailer as well. While this could be interpreted as a means of getting more business, one could argue it stands to say they welcome immigrants during a time when some may not feel so welcome.
It is evident that Target is ethical and strives to be aware of the issues that exist in modern society. In terms of operational CSR, Target aims to be a green retailer. In their words, the company is “committed to achieving milestones in our business by creating efficient buildings and spaces, using resources responsibly, eliminating waste and minimizing our carbon footprint” (Target, 2017). For example, they have adopted solar panels to power over half of all of their stores and conserved water by simply changing fixturing systems. Target sets percentage goals from each area they want to lower, like emissions from refrigerator systems, and at the end of each year, the company releases their carbon footprint data so the public can see they are actively achieving or working on their goals.
Some will question whether or not these steps Target has taken—especially to reduce their carbon footprint—are for the profit or because they genuinely support such initiatives. One thing that continues to stand out when it comes to Target is their transparency with everything they do. The company has its set of values and says it will upkeep to those standards, and more often than not, they do. Target is known for being socially conscious and acting in ways that support the environment, not because they want more customers, though this is certainly linked to the success of their business, but because they support something they believe in. That is the allure that is Target. The brand is very authentic and firm in their beliefs.
That’s not to say that Target has never had its share of bad media, or instances that could have been handled better. In November of 2013, Target faced a large scale hacking which resulted in more than 40 million customers’ sensitive data being stolen (Riley et al., 2014). Though the hacking was not Target’s fault, the negligence that occurred while dealing with the situation made consumers question Target’s ethics, which is a portion of corporate social responsibility. Consumers feel that it is up to a corporation to protect sensitive customer information, such as addresses, account numbers, and credit or debit card information. By having effective systems in place and responding appropriately to bad situations, a business is demonstrating responsibility in the safety of their customers and demonstrating their ethics. When suspicion of the hacking arose around Black Friday, Target’s security system was alerted; however, the security team ignored the warning (Riley et al., 2014). It was not until the U.S. Department of Justice notified the retailer about the breach in mid-December that the company investigated and uncovered their system had indeed been hacked. Many view this event as negligence on Target’s part—had they reported and looked into the threat, then the hacking probably could have been avoided. Consumers were also unhappy the amount of time it took Target to notify them of a possible breach of personal information. To them, it was not ethical because Target knew of the incident and the alert, but said and did nothing about it.
There can be lots of speculation over what did or did not happen, but what counts is what Target did afterwards. The company agreed to pay millions in compensatory damages, refund customers, offered them discounts to shop with, issued an apology, and they began requiring all card purchases to be chip authorized. They also took other preventative measures that amped up their security team and operations. Despite this hiccup, Target has still managed to be a top performing company and continue to prove that they demonstrate corporate social responsibility.
Investopedia (2017). Corporate Social Responsibility. Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/corp-social-responsibility.asp
Riley, M., Elgin, B., Lawrence, D., and Matlack, C. (17 Mar 2014). Missed Alarms and 40 Million Stolen Credit Card Numbers: How Target Blew It. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-03-13/target-missed-warnings-in-epic-hack-of-credit-card-data
Target (2017). Corporate Responsibility. Retrieved from https://corporate.target.com/corporate-responsibility