October 10, 2014

Executives talk corporate social responsibility

Executives from the Fortune 250 company Ryder Systems and the humanitarian organization American Red Cross detailed the history behind their partnership, how to exemplify corporate social responsibility, and their roles in giving back to society in an event hosted by Alpha Kappa Psi, a co-ed business-interest fraternity.

“In a world of rising social inequality and decreasing social mobility, it’s very natural to wonder, ‘should companies do something for people other than shareholders when their shareholders are doing very well?’” third-year Evan Zimmerman, an AKPsi brother and one of the organizers, said at the beginning of the event.

Ryder, a business-to-business provider that specializes in fleet management and supply-chain solutions, is “a company that’s behind the scenes, doing a lot of things with other organizations to make them more successful,” David Bruce, Vice President of Corporation Communication & Public Affairs of Ryder Systems, said.

Bruce pushed back against the argument that corporations had no responsibility to give back to the community. “There are many companies in the line of work like Ryder that probably don’t feel much need or desire to get involved with charitable activities,” Bruce said. He said, though, that he believes giving back is an obligation for corporations, in addition to just being smart business practice.

Despite Ryder’s contributions, their corporate giving is rarely publicized, Bruce said. “We’re not a high visibility consumer brand. We’re not a TOMS where social responsibility is part of the whole purchase appeal.”

Bruce explained the history of Ryder’s social philanthropy, starting from its foundation 80 years ago when founder James Ryder provided free services to local communities up to the more recent partnership with the American Red Cross. “We selected American Red Cross as our only, primary national partner, contributing more than $1.5 million in cash donations. We also provide in-kind donations of trucks, sponsor local community awareness events and disaster relief efforts with volunteers,” he said.

Tim Downey, Director of Strategic Partnerships & Development for the American Red Cross, said that the partnership with the Red Cross leveraged Ryder’s core strengths. During a disaster, trucks are needed to get relief items to those who lost everything. “It was a natural partnership that we started working together,” he said.

The event was concluded by a Q&A session in which audience members asked if there had been any political pressure on the American Red Cross, how the shareholders responded to the charitable aspects of Ryder, and the challenges they faced in corporate giving.

In response to a question on what the American Red Cross could have done better in carryout out social responsibility, Downey said, “A challenge we have right now is that gay men like me are not allowed to donate blood. That’s an FDA rule, not an American Red Cross rule. It goes back to 1985.”

Downey has been advocating for the FDA to consider the new tests and screening, he said. “It’s been tested that [gays] should not be discriminated against and that it should be okay, but we’re not there yet. We can do better on that and we’ll get there eventually.”