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Certainly not the blog post I planned on writing after spending two weeks in New Delhi, India but I am compelled.

Today, McDonald’s hosted a Twitter chat with VP of CSR Bob Langert. The motivations are many for a company that is besieged for its product line and constantly under fire.

In fact, last year at a diversity benchmarking event at Hamburger University, I had the opportunity to hear the McDonald’s executive team discuss a whole host of business practices and strategies, including diversity (led by Global Chief Diversity Officer Pat Harris), employee learning and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Here’s a snapshot of what I wrote then:

There is an argument that some companies–such as those that deal in weapons and tobacco–just can’t do corporate responsibility in a meaningful way. As a result, they are often excluded from CSR rankings and benchmarking exercises.

But what about a company like McDonald’s constantly under fire for its products? How does the world’s largest fast-food chain practice corporate social responsibility that is both contextual and real?

Led by Senior Manager for Corporate Social Responsibility Kathleen Bannan, who began her presentation by saying “CSR is everybody’s business,” the day-long event proved both thought-provoking (how does a company who doesn’t enjoy corporate America’s most favorable retention rates or the public’s uniform love tackle responsibility and that ever-amorphous doing the right thing?) and insightful (McDonald’s is among very few companies to institute an employee resource group for its white male workforce).

What happened today, however, was an effort at cautious transparency and an attempt at crowd sourcing corporate social responsibility.

The questions were introspective:

And the answers, alternatively useful, creative and critical.

But then I saw this:

Now McDonald’s is not the first company to host a Twitter chat by any means. I have personally attended several as well as hosted a few — including one coming up next week with UPS’ Chief Sustainability Officer Scott Wicker — with varying levels of participation from a usually diverse set of activists, journalists, executives and consumers.

Never before, however, have I been handed a “Twitter Chat Policy.”

An indication of things to come or…?

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At McDonald’s, CSR is Everyone’s Business

Originally posted on September 10, 2010 on Vault’s CSR blog: In Good Company.

At McDonald’s recent inclusion and diversity benchmarking event, Senior Manager for Corporate Social Responsibility Kathleen Bannan began her presentation with a statement that will resonate with several regular readers of this space: “CSR is everybody’s business.”

Strategic CSR for fast food chain giant McDonald's involves diversity and inclusion, employee engagement, volunteering, environmental sustainability as well as leadership training and development.

Bannan was attempting to highlight the evolution from how the company used to interpret CSR and what it has come to mean today, i.e., a shift from purely philanthropic ventures to a core element of the company’s long-term strategy. Although the last part might be too much to swallow for critics who claim that a company that sells fast food and offers plastic toys cannot spout responsibility, Bannan offered some interesting context.

According to Bannan, who is a Boston College graduate and previously worked for the Center for Corporate Citizenship, having a home within the diversity department offers her team a unique opportunity to participate in shaping the company’s long-term strategy. Further, alignment with Global Chief Diversity Officer Pat Harris’ vision ensures that CSR remain relevant for the company.

Here’s how Bannan presented the evolution of CSR at McDonald’s:

1955 – 1989: The Golden Age

CSR meant community involvement, national grassroots programs and building its image as a trust bank.

1990 – 2000: Globalization

As communication became easier and technology enabled rapid globalization, CSR expanded to include issues related to nutrition, the environment, and responses to issues such as international conflict (including aid provision) and a wave of anti-Americanism that targeted institutions like McDonald’s.

Strategic CSR for fast food chain giant McDonald's involves diversity and inclusion, employee engagement, volunteering, environmental sustainability as well as leadership training and development.

2000 – Present: Strategic CSR

This decade pushed CSR into strategy. Corporate governance and ethics became central to every departmental function, much like the graph on the left.

For Bannan, this translates into a 360-degree view of the company and an oversight of not only employee engagement but also active participation in catalyzing a cultural shift. “We set priorities according to what we call the ‘Smart Zone,’ which basically means what efforts will result in win-win solutions,” she explained. Those solutions include things like “investing in energy efficiency solutions and analyzing an environmental scorecard across departments to chart progress as well as identify struggle points.”

Accompanying her presentation, attendees received a copy of McDonald’s CSR Report for 2008, titled: Responsible Food for a Sustainable Future. A couple of the goals on the back cover include:

  • Continue to enhance our employment value proposition to drive employee engagement.
  • Continue to integrate McDonald’s values into key people programs, from hiring, to training, to career development.

That these goals tie in with those of the talent acquisition and education teams is not coincidental. It is this common Global Inclusion and Diversity umbrella that is ensuring a strategic approach across departments at McDonald’s. While CSR remains a small piece of the equation for them, it is clear that progress is underway as well as the recognition that CSR is indeed, everybody’s business.

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