Star Wars, Toys and Gender; Social vs. Economic Good

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When does a perceived social responsibility trump a business’ need to be profitable? Do some perceived social responsibilities outweigh others?

These were some of the thoughts that have been going through my mind this week. They arose from a dustup on the social networks over the absence of Rey, a major female Star Wars character, from Hasbro’s 6-pack action figure sets.

Critics using the Twitter hash tag #wheresrey see a pattern in the company’s actions noting that the company had previously left Black Widow out of the Avengers and Gamora out of the Guardians of the Universe sets.

Hasbro and any company, for that matter,  has a challenge in making the best decisions for stakeholders. After all, if doing a social good always equated to doing a financial good we would not be discussing this issue. But the two clearly do not always equate, hence the dilemma.

It is neither a new nor a simple challenge. The question of social responsibility for business has intrigued philosophers from Plato to Peter Drucker and Milton Friedman.

In fact, business philosophers have long maintained that the ultimate social responsibility of any company is to stay in business. Why, because staying in business maintains jobs and those who have jobs can contribute to family and society.

Neither the critics nor I or you (okay, maybe you) really know how Hasbro decides what does or does not go in a play set. So, let’s view this in the larger context of all business. Here are some questions I am asking myself, some philosophical, some practical and all hypothetical. I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts:

  1. What is the ultimate responsibility of any business, social or otherwise?
  2. How do we weigh social responsibilities? Do some have more value than others and if so how do we measure them?
  3. Does a social good trump a financial good in all cases? What if the social good causes financial pain?
  4. Do companies that engage with children have a greater responsibility than other forms of business?
  5. Does business have an inherent interest in including the social good as  part of the marketing discussion?
  6. Do individuals have a responsibility to speak out to management about their beliefs and does management have a benefit in encouraging such a dialogue?
  7. Do we have a business responsibility to look for a way to turn a social good into an economic one?

We are an industry filled with bright, ethical and responsible people. We are certainly up to the task of thinking about these issues. I would love to know what you think.

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