Etica ed economia, famiglia & impresa

In her paper “Etica ed economia, famiglia & impresa. Filosofia sociale e prospettive concrete”, published in 2103, Rosalia Azzaro Pulvirenti, researcher at the Italian Research Institute of Business and Development, presents the concept of Corporate Family Responsibility as a concrete form of implementing Corporate Social Responsibility. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), according to the definition of the European Commission, ”refers to companies taking responsibility for their impact on society” (EU Commission, COM, 2011, 681).

Pulvirenti presents data of current surveys showing on the one side that traditional family life, i.e. the decision to engage in a stable emotional and legal partnership between a man and a woman and to have children, continues to be a preferred life concept among young people in Europe. However, there is also evidence that shows how modern working life and the economic situation at distinct phases in the life of a person influence such decisions as marrying, or separation, and even parenting. Thus, facts show that the fertility rate in Italy is one of the lowest in Europe, and new families are created late or not at all.

Due to this, companies should acknowledge the impact they have on the family life of their employees, in order to take over their responsibility and contribute with concrete policies and programs to an improvement in family stability and fertility rate.

Pulvirenti states that there are good reasons why companies should promote and support family formation and growth. First of all, the family can be considered the basic social unit and the most fundamental and natural form of human relationship and as such, it proves a very important element in the constitution of society, especially of economic relationships. Pulvirenti argues philosophically how economic decision-making greatly depends on the ethical values and mindset of economic agents. In this sense, a central principle which governs commercial life, the reciprocity principle, and which is defined as the fundamental respect for the rights of others, emerges and develops primarily in family life.

Another central principle which governs our continental legal and economic system, the subsidiarity principle, is very much in line of the protection of primary relationships. According to the subsidiarity principle, societies of a higher order should respect the specific contribution of societies of a lower order to the common good and thus should on the one side abstain from assuming those activities which lower order communities, such as the family, can more properly fulfill. On the other side, the subsidiarity principle also requires that fundamental communities be empowered to assume their responsibilities, and that all obstacles are removed, which hinder them from doing so. In the case of corporate family responsibility, business firms are seen as higher order communities, which take advantage of physically and psychologically stable and satisfied individuals, and families are seen as lower order communities providing the necessary stability and satisfaction of the basic needs of these individuals. In this sense, businesses should be interested in removing the obstacles their activity puts to family life, especially to the possibility of parents taking proper care of their children and partners providing and receiving mutual emotional support. It is striking to see, that the OECD formulates in a report about how to improve family relationships, that “families are the cornerstone of society. They play a central economic role, creating economies of scale for people living together and as the source of home production. They are a crucial engine of solidarity, redistributing resources (cash, in-kind or time) among individuals, households and generations. They provide protection and insurance against hardship. Families offer identity, love, care and development to their members and form the core of many social networks” (OECD, Doing better for families, 2011).

Thus, concrete measures offering working hours flexibility, support in cash or in kind for the provision of services such as education, health and child and old people care, and others, constitute an important expression of corporate family responsibility. The OECD continues: “More effective public policies which do better for families can have large private and public payoffs. For example, by supporting vulnerable families and children more effectively now, policy is likely to avoid costly negative outcomes in future. Better co-ordination and co-location of services for families generate economies of scale and also ensure that more families get the variety of services they need. But family policy is not just about services or cash allowances, income support during leave or tax breaks for families. It is also about promoting various health and education aspects of child well-being, about reducing barriers to parental employment and helping parents to provide for their children and easing family poverty risks.” (Ibid.).

Public policy should thus help corporations to formulate and implement programs aimed at providing their employees the means for their family lives to flourish. In fact, the author further supports her argument by showing existing actions and policies in an international, regional and local level, aimed at supporting business policies to implement corporate family responsibility. Every company should develop, in accordance with its specific activities and the characteristics of their workforce, the most proper instruments to guarantee the development of family life. Policies and public initiatives aimed at supporting this development should collaborate better with the private sector so that common goals can be met.

di Daniela Ortiz

Research Associate at Markets, Culture and Ethics (MCE)

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