Is corporate social responsibility a legal point? Can ethics be legislated? Socially responsible corporations are one of the new topics in the public eye. Enron, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the automakers and the bank debacle are just a few examples of the sore lack of corporate social responsibility. When did CEOs and corporate executives start getting yearly salaries in the hundreds of millions, along with juicy stock options, personal chauffeurs and private corporate jets?

One of the automaker CEOs cited security as the reason he could not use commercial flights. Meanwhile, the rank and file workers were being laid off, losing retirement funds, health care and pension plans. When did we start talking about corporate social responsibility reporting? This became an issue when Enron went down. It was a huge news item at the time. In the case of Enron, thousands of workers, many of whom had worked for this corporation for decades, lost everything. Memos came to light, showing that workers were encouraged to continue investing in Enron stock, even when corporate executives knew that the stock was going south.

These loyal employees had 'done everything right', believing they would have a secure retirement due to their conservative fiscal planning, scrimping and saving for the future. Now, they were broke. How about the foreclosure crises? Former President Bush spearheaded the 'ownership society' program. Aspiring, but financially unqualified buyers, were lured by mortgage lenders, with initially attractive interest rates, with a significant bump in that payment coming 3-5 years down the road. When foreclosures began in earnest, whistle blowers stepped up, informing the public that lenders had coached unqualified applicants to inflate their income and to withhold information that might prevent them from qualifying.

Who lost in this fraudulent arena? The homeowners were tossed out in the street, losing their homes and investment. The mortgage lenders got bailed out. Where do these lenders demonstrate any ethics corporate social responsibility? The bailout bought up the bank debt. We were led to believe this would solve the credit crises. That's not how it turned out. After receiving their ill-gotten funds, they still didn't extend credit, even to other banks. Little news blurbs mentioned cases of bigger banks subsequently buying out smaller banks, solidifying their hold on consumers and small businesses.

A recent news report told of an audit of the bank bailout which showed that, in 2008, the Treasury paid out $254 billion for assets which were, in fact, worth just $176 billion. If an ordinary individual has a discrepancy of $100 on their tax return, the government has no trouble catching this error pronto and then penalizing that taxpayer. Meanwhile, if an individual becomes overdrawn by a mere $0.50 cents, banks are allowed to charge anywhere from $27-$35 for this infraction, plus a daily charge of $7 until the account is paid. If the account holder deposits funds the very next day, this arithmetic error costs him up to $42.50.

Definition of corporate social responsibility is an ethical issue. Most people would find this practice to be unethical. If an account becomes overdrawn, it would be ethical to penalize a percentage fine, capping the fine to a reasonable fee. If a small business owner fails, it doesn't matter whether the failure was due to incompetent management or pure circumstance. If he goes down, the government doesn't step in to bail him out. He's out of business, held to a standard of corporate social responsibility more powerful entities are not. When the automakers negotiated a bail out program, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, we were told we must bear the burden, because these corporations “were too big to fail”. Say what?

Despite the fact that the top executives were paid astronomical salaries and enjoyed perks galore, the result of their mismanagement and greed was a government handout to save them from imminent collapse. The money was just handed over, with no provisions for accountability. While these corporations were living high, a 93 year old man, with no living relatives, recently froze to death when his electricity was cut off for non-payment.

This man had spent 75 years working as a pattern maker. It's obvious that corporate social responsibility must be legislated and enforced. The electric company will now write off this man's debt and get a tax break. This man was small enough to die, for a lack of basic decency and ethics of a corporate entity.