As I get deeper into my research, I am coming across more and more issues related to my topic that I had never really thought about. It seems like the more we learn about an issue the more we are able to fully appreciate the complexities that surround it. My project focuses on China’s internet developments and their impacts on society, especially how the rural-urban gap is affected as internet penetration continues to grow. The 3 case studies I am working on have all launched initiatives that aim to bridge this gap and increase internet growth in rural China, but researching about these initiatives definitely took time. It is evident that these initiatives by the 3 companies are not of their utmost priority.
This is not difficult to understand, considering that every company’s value stems from their profit margins and perceived potential. Social responsibility, while important, is not what is most crucial in the eyes of investors and customers and hence naturally takes a backseat. This prompted me to think about the extent to which companies should be expected to be involved in social issues like poverty reduction. In the case of Alibaba, the company has much to gain from encouraging rural villages to have an online presence to increase e-commerce sales between urban and rural cities in China, which can potentially drive the company’s growth enormously. However, if companies do not see a direct link between engaging in acts of ‘social responsibility’ and their own growth, how motivated will they be in carrying out these initiatives if not for pressure from the government?
Looking away from China for the moment and turning our gaze to the rest of the world, it is not uncommon for us to see posters promising to donate a certain percentage of proceeds from a certain product to charity, or to donate a pair of shoes for each pair bought. I sometimes catch myself questioning if these initiatives count toward social responsibility or if they really are just marketing strategies to generate more sales and at the same time create a better image for the company. If it is the latter, is this form of advertising even ethical?
I remain intrigued by the issue of censorship in China and wonder if the Great Firewall will ever be broken down, allowing a flood of information to rush easily between borders. This is of course inextricably linked with politics which is far beyond the scope of my project. In the next week, I will be finishing up my last case study on Baidu and finalizing the ArcGIS map and perhaps Tableau visualizations. Also looking forward to receiving more feedback on my work in the coming week!