Corporate Culture Feeds Social Responsibility

By Carolyn Chen



n my first blog post, I ended my discussion of how SAS Institute approaches social change with a set of questions regarding where for-profit corporations fit in the human rights space and the merits of corporate social responsibility. At that time, I was uncertain of exactly what corporations could do to promote CSR and business and human rights on top of the existing efforts of non-profit organizations and social enterprises. Now, ten weeks later, I think it is fitting to address those questions in my final blog post. I have learned through my internship this summer that corporate respect for human rights is directly linked with due diligence and legal obligations. But I have also learned that successful CSR and BHR is stems from both the business case and a genuine desire to do good, which is rooted in corporate culture.

For companies, the potential to engage in social change is apparent at every point in the supply chain: from the suppliers and sourcing of materials, to the employees that contribute intellectual capital, to the societal impacts of their product. Though there may not always be laws regarding supplier oversight, SAS maintains a supply chain management system because human rights risks exist in the company’s procurement process. SAS receives questions about its supply chain practices from its customers as part of their own supply chain management system, and the technology industry especially is very focused on supply chains. The Supplier Code, as I have discussed in previous posts, aims to establish ethical guidelines to protect international human rights and to hold the management of SAS suppliers accountable. This is useful from a legal perspective if a SAS supplier is linked to any violations, since SAS can also point to the Supplier Code as a contract that was agreed upon. However, it is important to note that the idea of the Code came not from the Legal department but rather members of the Procurement team, who thought it would be a good initiative from the corporate social responsibility and human rights standpoint.

From the SAS employee and company perspective, there are government regulations that SAS must comply with. The Ethics and Compliance group leads all employee training initiatives in areas such as the SAS Code of Ethics, information security, export control, anti-corruption, privacy, and respect in the workplace. During my internship, I created guides for export control and international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR) tailored towards different divisions. I also assisted with the screening process of matches found on government databases of known human rights violators and dangerous individuals and organizations. These regulations aim to prevent governments, organizations, and individuals who pose a threat to national security or international human rights from receiving technology with potential military applications. The business case for compliance in these circumstances is apparent, as companies can be fined large sums of money for not adhering to regulations. However, SAS goes beyond the minimum and has been built upon a business model that highly values its employees and creating an empowering workplace culture, something that cannot always be said with regards to other technology companies that have recently been in the news for sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

Not everything companies do for the social good should be viewed from a compliance standpoint. SAS actively finds ways to contribute its data analytics and software products towards educational, non-profit and humanitarian causes through partnering with various education and human rights organizations. SAS has many education programs for P-12 and higher education and is especially focused on developing student interest in STEM careers. SAS analytics has been used to combat human trafficking and improve patient outcome and behavioral healthcare. A team within SAS has created an app, GatherIQ, which is a crowdsourcing project that allows users to interact with data from non-profit and global human rights organizations and answer questions these organizations have about their data by using SAS analytics. One such organization includes the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has provided GatherIQ with data regarding migrant deaths to better understand the dangers that migrants face. Sure, there is a business case to be made about the public relations aspect of drawing attention to these initiatives. But does that make the social impact of SAS’ product any less legitimate? I was sitting in on a company presentation about GatherIQ a few weeks ago, and was struck by how many members of the audience stayed after to introduce themselves and offer their skills for the project and the next phases of the app. These were SAS employees and interns driven by a genuine desire to help and volunteer their time. Through interning at SAS, I have begun to recognize the potential of incorporating technology and data (and the use of statistics majors like me) in the human rights space, and it’s exciting to be working with a corporation whose product can be applied in these meaningful ways.

Ultimately, I think that global and legal frameworks will continue to be very important in the corporate human rights space, but that we should not underestimate the power of socially-conscientious individuals and groups within corporations. The key to integrating corporate social responsibility and human rights into everyday business practices is to build companies that are rooted in ethical standards that inspire employees to envision the potential social impact that their work can create.