[OUTLOOK]Responsibility comes naturallyAt Samsung Electronics Co., we have a large-scale race that brings together about 20,000 of the company’s total employees and senior executives, except for a minimum number of essential staff. The annual event began in 1998, as South Korea was undergoing a financial crisis, to help raise meal money for underprivileged kids. It has now established itself as the most representative of Samsung Electronics’ “giving back to society” programs. It operates like a grant, where employees and executives donate money corresponding to the distances they run and the company matches that amount. The money raised is used for various charitable programs.
Not long ago, I happened to read a newspaper column that called on me to show my “warm side” by such acts as delivering coal briquettes to the needy, in addition to the “cold side” which emerges when I appear in suits in semiconductor factories. After reading that column, I have to admit I was a bit discouraged that people perceived me as such a cold person and also disappointed for those who do not recognize how “warm” semiconductors are in their everyday contribution to making human lives more comfortable.
Nevertheless, I would like to thank the writer of that column for stopping me in my daily efforts to ponder the important things that I might be missing out on.
They say that the South Korean economy is making an entry into the world’s top 10 economies, but there are still many shadows in our society. It’s regrettable, but when technological development accelerates, it tends to leave a larger chunk of people behind because they are technologically isolated. It’s known as the “Digital Divide” ― where a gap in information or access to information deepens the gap among social classes. Companies are the primary culprits of technological isolation and, thus, have an enormous responsibility resting on their shoulders. The prevailing opinion regarding corporate responsibility is that companies should fulfill their social responsibility through donations and other acts that contribute to society. On the other hand, some just as forcefully argue that corporate responsibilities are being met when companies create jobs. I agree with the former group. That belief also aligns with our group’s founding ideology of giving back to the nation through business.
A satirical American writer, Dorothy Parker, said the most beautiful expression in English is “Check Enclosed.” That is not surprising when we recall that giving is very much part of the American culture.
Any company producing quality products that enrich lives is making a social contribution in a broader sense. We, however, must always ask whether the public has the ability to purchase those goods, and whether the products are truly needed.
The end-goal in social contribution is to relieve isolation. In that sense, it’s not much different from running a company and thus requires a strategy. It’s not about the amount of money involved but about committing to a strategy by figuring out what is needed and ensuring it is allotted to the most needy.
The Samsung Group sponsors an eyesight recovery campaign, which roughly translates as “Recovering the Light of Love,” where an ophthalmology bus carrying doctors and surgery equipment goes out to patients. Isn’t it nonsense to ask these patients, with visibility disabilities, to come into selected hospitals for surgery? Other irresponsible attempts to fulfill corporate social responsibility are doling out 100,000 won to non-governmental groups because a company made a million won ($957) ― though, again, that is better than nothing ― and formal contributions made on certain holidays or in a show of self display. We should grow out of these acts.
Our group also has a volunteer unit, which marked its 11th birthday this year. It’s a standing organization about the size of a company. We oversee an annual budget of up to 500 billion won through this group. All participation is voluntary, and employees and executives, including myself, take pride in taking part regularly in the unit’s activities. Such pride in turn raises employee satisfaction with our company. Thus, social contribution becomes an important source of competitiveness in a virtuous cycle of raising productivity.
A company’s growth owes a lot to society. When a company grows and expands, so do its responsibilities to society. Companies can do an infinite number of things in terms of corporate responsibility. It’s only natural we share the fruits of our success with the disabled, the single elderly without families and young children who bring home the bacon, all of whom are our neighbors and fellows in society. It’s time we check ourselves to see if we have been inattentive to our due social obligations on the excuse of being busy.
* The writer is the CEO of Samsung Electronics Co. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hwang Chang-gyu