What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR, also called corporate conscience, corporate citizenship, social performance, or sustainable responsible business/ Responsible Business) is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. CSR policy functions as a built-in, self-regulating mechanism whereby a business monitors and ensures its active compliance with the spirit of the law, ethical standards, and international norms. The goal of CSR is to embrace responsibility for the company's actions and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere who may also be considered as stakeholders.

The term "corporate social responsibility" came into common use in the late 1960s and early 1970s after many multinational corporations formed the term stakeholder, meaning those on whom an organization's activities have an impact. It was used to describe corporate owners beyond shareholders as a result of an influential book by R. Edward Freeman, Strategic management: a stakeholder approach in 1984.Proponents argue that corporations make more long term profits by operating with a perspective, while critics argue that CSR distracts from the economic role of businesses. Others argue CSR is merely window-dressing, or an attempt to pre-empt the role of governments as a watchdog over powerful multinational corporations.

CSR is titled to aid an organization's mission as well as a guide to what the company stands for and will uphold to its consumers. Development business ethics is one of the forms of applied ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that can arise in a business environment. ISO 26000 is the recognized international standard for CSR. Public sector organizations (the United Nations for example) adhere to the triple bottom line (TBL). It is widely accepted that CSR adheres to similar principles but with no formal act of legislation. The UN has developed the Principles for Responsible Investment as guidelines for investing entities.

 

Potential business benefits

The scale and nature of the benefits of CSR for an organization can vary depending on the nature of the enterprise, and are difficult to quantify, though there is a large body of literature exhorting business to adopt measures beyond financial ones (e.g., Deming's Fourteen Points, balanced scorecards). Orlitzky, Schmidt, and Rynesfound a correlation between social/environmental performance and financial performance. However, businesses may not be looking at short-run financial returns when developing their CSR strategy.

The definition of CSR used within an organization can vary from the strict "stakeholder impacts" definition used by many CSR advocates and will often include charitable efforts and volunteering. CSR may be based within the human resources, business development or public relations departments of an organisation,or may be given a separate unit reporting to the CEO or in some cases directly to the board. Some companies may implement CSR-type values without a clearly defined team or programme.

The business case for CSRwithin a company will likely rest on one or more of these arguments:

Human resources

A CSR program can be an aid to recruitment and retention,particularly within the competitive graduate student market. Potential recruits often ask about a firm's CSR policy during an interview, and having a comprehensive policy can give an advantage. CSR can also help improve the perception of a company among its staff, particularly when staff can become involved through payroll giving, fundraising activities or community volunteering. CSR has been found to encourage customer orientation among frontline employees.

Risk management

Managing risk is a central part of many corporate strategies. Reputations that take decades to build up can be ruined in hours through incidents such as corruption scandals or environmental accidents.  These can also draw unwanted attention from regulators, courts, governments and media. Building a genuine culture of 'doing the right thing' within a corporation can offset these risks.[17]

Brand differentiation

In crowded marketplaces, companies strive for a unique selling proposition that can separate them from the competition in the minds of consumers. CSR can play a role in building customer loyalty based on distinctive ethical values.Several major brands, such as The Co-operative Group, The Body Shop and American Apparelare built on ethical values. Business service organizations can benefit too from building a reputation for integrity and best practice.

License to operate

Corporations are keen to avoid interference in their business through taxation or regulations. By taking substantive voluntary steps, they can persuade governments and the wider public that they are taking issues such as health and safety, diversity, or the environment seriously as good corporate citizens with respect to labour standards and impacts on the environment.

Criticisms and concerns

Critics of CSR as well as proponents debate a number of concerns related to it. These include CSR's relationship to the fundamental purpose and nature of business and questionable motives for engaging in CSR, including concerns about insincerity and hypocrisy.

Nature of business

Milton Friedman and others have argued that a corporation's purpose is to maximize returns to its shareholders, and that since only people can have social responsibilities, corporations are only responsible to their shareholders and not to society as a whole. Although they accept that corporations should obey the laws of the countries within which they work, they assert that corporations have no other obligation to society. Some people perceive CSR as in-congruent with the very nature and purpose of business, and indeed a hindrance to free trade. Those who assert that CSR is contrasting with capitalism and are in favor of the free market argue that improvements in health, longevity and/or infant mortality have been created by economic growth attributed to free enterprise.

Critics of this argument perceive the free market as opposed to the well-being of society and a hindrance to human freedom. They claim that the type of capitalism practiced in many developing countries is a form of economic and cultural imperialism, noting that these countries usually have fewer labour protections, and thus their citizens are at a higher risk of exploitation by multinational corporations.

A wide variety of individuals and organizations operate in between these poles. For example, the REALeadership Alliance asserts that the business of leadership (be it corporate or otherwise) is to change the world for the better.Many religious and cultural traditions hold that the economy exists to serve human beings, so all economic entities have an obligation to society (see for example Economic Justice for All). Moreover, as discussed above, many CSR proponents point out that CSR can significantly improve long-term corporate profitability because it reduces risks and inefficiencies while offering a host of potential benefits such as enhanced brand reputation and employee engagement.

Motives

Some critics believe that CSR programs are undertaken by companies such as British American Tobacco (BAT),the petroleum giant BP (well known for its high-profile advertising campaigns on environmental aspects of its operations), and McDonald's (see below) to distract the public from ethical questions posed by their core operations. They argue that some corporations start CSR programs for the commercial benefit they enjoy through raising their reputation with the public or with government. They suggest that corporations which exist solely to maximize profits are unable to advance the interests of society as a whole.

Another concern is that sometimes companies claim to promote CSR and be committed to sustainable development but simultaneously engage in harmful business practices. For example, since the 1970s, the McDonald's Corporation's association with Ronald McDonald House has been viewed as CSR and relationship marketing. More recently, as CSR has become mainstream, the company has beefed up its CSR programs related to its labor, environmental and other practicesAll the same, in McDonald's Restaurants v Morris & Steel, Lord Justices Pill, May and Keane ruled that it was fair comment to say that McDonald's employees worldwide 'do badly in terms of pay and conditions and true that 'if one eats enough McDonald's food, one's diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease.

Royal Dutch Shell has a much-publicized CSR policy and was a pioneer in triple bottom line reporting, but this did not prevent the 2004 scandal concerning its misreporting of oil reserves, which seriously damaged its reputation and led to charges of hypocrisy. Since then, the Shell Foundation has become involved in many projects across the world, including a partnership with Marks and Spencer (UK) in three flower and fruit growing communities across Africa.

Critics concerned with corporate hypocrisy and insincerity generally suggest that better governmental and international regulation and enforcement, rather than voluntary measures, are necessary to ensure that companies behave in a socially responsible manner. A major area of necessary international regulation is the reduction of the capacity of corporations to sue states under investor state dispute settlement provisions in trade or investment treaties if otherwise necessary public health or environment protection legislation has impeded corporate investments.Others, such as Patricia Werhane, argue that CSR should be considered more as a corporate moral responsibility, and limit the reach of CSR by focusing more on direct impacts of the organization as viewed through a systems perspective to identify stakeholders. For a commonly overlooked motive for CSR, see also Corporate Social Entrepreneurship, whereby CSR can also be driven by employees' personal values, in addition to the more obvious economic and governmental drivers.

Ethical consumerism

The rise in popularity of ethical consumerism over the last two decades can be linked to the rise of CSR. As global population increases, so does the pressure on limited natural resources required to meet rising consumer demand (Grace and Cohen 2005, 147). Industrialization, in many developing countries, is booming as a result of both technology and globalization. Consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental and social implications of their day-to-day consumer decisions and are therefore beginning to make purchasing decisions related to their environmental and ethical concerns.However, this practice is far from consistent or universal.

Globalization and market forces

As corporations pursue growth through globalization, they have encountered new challenges that impose limits to their growth and potential profits. Government regulations, tariffs, environmental restrictions and varying standards of what constitutes "labor exploitation" are problems that can cost organizations millions of dollars. Some view ethical issues as simply a costly hindrance, while some companies use CSR methodologies as a strategic tactic to gain public support for their presence in global markets, helping them sustain a competitive advantage by using their social contributions to provide a subconscious level of advertising. (Fry, Keim, Meiners 1986, 105) Global competition places a particular pressure on multinational corporations to examine not only their own labor practices, but those of their entire supply chain, from a CSR perspective.

Social awareness and education

The role among corporate stakeholders is to work collectively to pressure corporations that are changing. Shareholders and investors themselves, through socially responsible investing are exerting pressure on corporations to behave responsibly. Non-governmental organizations are also taking an increasing role, leveraging the power of the media and the Internet to increase their scrutiny and collective activism around corporate behavior. Through education and dialogue, the development of community awareness in holding businesses responsible for their actions is growing.In recent years, the traditional conception of CSR is being challenged by the more community-conscious Creating Shared Value concept (CSV), and several companies are refining their collaboration with stakeholders accordingly.

Ethics training

The rise of ethics training inside corporations, some of it required by government regulation, is another driver credited with changing the behavior and culture of corporations. The aim of such training is to help employees make ethical decisions when the answers are unclear. Tullberg believes that humans are built with the capacity to cheat and manipulate, a view taken from Trivers (1971, 1985), hence the need for learning normative values and rules in human behavior.The most direct benefit is reducing the likelihood of "dirty hands" (Grace and Cohen 2005), fines and damaged reputations for breaching laws or moral norms. Organizations also see secondary benefit in increasing employee loyalty and pride in the organization Caterpillar and Best Buy are examples of organizations that have taken such steps.[32]

Increasingly, companies are becoming interested in processes that can add visibility to their CSR policies and activities. One method that is gaining increasing popularity is the use of well-grounded training programs, where CSR is a major issue, and business simulations can play a part in this.

One relevant documentary is The Corporation, the history of organizations and their growth in power is discussed. Corporate social responsibility, what a company does in trying to benefit society, versus corporate moral responsibility (CMR), what a company should morally do, are both important topics to consider when looking at ethics in CSR. For example, Ray Anderson, in The Corporation, takes a CMR perspective in order to do what is moral and he begins to shift his company's focus towards the biosphere by utilizing carpets in sections so that they will sustain for longer periods. This is Anderson thinking in terms of Garret Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons," where if people do not pay attention to the private ways in which we use public resources, people will eventually lose those public resources.

Laws and regulation

Another driver of CSR is the role of independent mediators, particularly the government, in ensuring that corporations are prevented from harming the broader social good, including people and the environment. CSR critics such as Robert Reich argue that governments should set the agenda for social responsibility by the way of laws and regulation that will allow a business to conduct themselves responsibly.

The issues surrounding government regulation pose several problems. Regulation in itself is unable to cover every aspect in detail of a corporation's operations. This leads to burdensome legal processes bogged down in interpretations of the law and debatable grey areas (Sacconi 2004). For example, General Electric failed to clean up the Hudson River after contaminating it with organic pollutants. The company continues to argue via the legal process on assignment of liability, while the cleanup remains stagnant. (Sullivan & Schiafo 2005).

The second issue is the financial burden that regulation can place on a nation's economy. This view shared by Bulkeley, who cites the Australian federal government's actions to avoid compliance with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, on the concerns of economic loss and national interest. The Australian government took the position that signing the Kyoto Pact would have caused more significant economic losses for Australia than for any other OECD nation (Bulkeley 2001, pg 436). On the change of government following the election in November 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed the ratification immediately after assuming office on 3 December 2007, just before the meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Critics of CSR also point out that organisations pay taxes to government to ensure that society and the environment are not adversely affected by business activities.

Denmark has a law on CSR. On 16 December 2008, the Danish parliament adopted a bill making it mandatory for the 1100 largest Danish companies, investors and state-owned companies to include information on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their annual financial reports. The reporting requirements became effective on 1 January 2009.[33] The required information includes:

  • information on the companies’ policies for CSR or socially responsible investments (SRI)
  • information on how such policies are implemented in practice, and
  • information on what results have been obtained so far and managements expectations for the future with regard to CSR/SRI.

CSR/SRI is still voluntary in Denmark, but if a company has no policy on this it must state its positioning on CSR in their annual financial report. More on the Danish law can be found at CSRgov.dk

Crises and their consequences

Often it takes a crisis to precipitate attention to CSR. One of the most active stands against environmental mismanagement is the CERES Principles that resulted after the Exxon Valdez incident in Alaska in 1989 (Grace and Cohen 2006). Other examples include the lead poisoning paint used by toy giant Mattel, which required a recall of millions of toys globally and caused the company to initiate new risk management and quality control processes. In another example, Magellan Metals in the West Australian town of Esperance was responsible for lead contamination killing thousands of birds in the area. The company had to cease business immediately and work with independent regulatory bodies to execute a cleanup. Odwalla also experienced a crisis with sales dropping 90%, and the company's stock price dropping 34% due to several cases of E. coli spread through Odwalla apple juice. The company ordered a recall of all apple or carrot juice products and introduced a new process called "flash pasteurization" as well as maintaining lines of communication constantly open with customers.

Stakeholder priorities

Increasingly, corporations are motivated to become more socially responsible because their most important stakeholders expect them to understand and address the social and community issues that are relevant to them. Understanding what causes are important to employees is usually the first priority because of the many interrelated business benefits that can be derived from increased employee engagement (i.e. more loyalty, improved recruitment, increased retention, higher productivity, and so on). Key external stakeholders include customers, consumers, investors (particularly institutional investors), communities in the areas where the corporation operates its facilities, regulators, academics, and the media.

Branco and Rodrigues (2007) describe the stakeholder perspective of CSR as the inclusion of all groups or constituents (rather than just shareholders) in managerial decision making related to the organization’s portfolio of socially responsible activities.This normative model implies that the CSR collaborations are positively accepted when they are in the interests of stakeholders and may have no effect or be detrimental to the organization if they are not directly related to stakeholder interests. The stakeholder perspective suffers from a wheel and spoke network metaphor that does not acknowledge the complexity of network interactions that can occur in cross sector partnerships. It also relegates communication to a maintenance function, similar to the exchange perspective.

Arguments for Including Disability in CSR

In recent years CSR is increasingly becoming a part of a large number of companies. It is becoming an important activity for businesses throughout the globe.

Basically, CSR means that a company's business model should be socially responsible and environmentally sustainable. By socially responsible, it means that the company's activities should benefit the society and by environmentally sustainable it means that the activities of the company should not harm the environment.

But currently what we can see is that there is an outburst of enthusiasm for environmental causes only. For example, controlling pollution, global warming, deforestation, mitigate carbon emissions, etc. Whereas it can be said that the same enthusiasm is not seen for social welfare. This is because most of the social welfare activities of the companies contribute to the welfare of us able bodied people but do not take into account the disabled people who are also a part of the society in which the company exists and who amount to at least 10% of the population. Therefore, disability must be made a part of CSR policies of the companies and people with disabilities must be allowed to become stakeholders.

There should be non-discrimination or diversity management awareness-raising and training for employees in the companies, that include disability treatment. They should include the disability factor in employment/HR indicators (age distribution, gender, contract type, professional categories and/or activity areas, rotation) so that the situation of people with disabilities can be compared with that of other employees. The companies should take into account the characteristics of people with disabilities when managing human resources (recruitment, selection, contracting and induction, promotion, training, prevention of risks at work). Customer care staff training should be carried out by the companies aimed at guaranteeing appropriate treatment of people with disabilities. They should have a policy or directive aimed at considering or favouring suppliers and subcontractors that employ people with disabilities, including Sheltered Workshops.

Thus, carrying out business practice which includes disabled people will help improve the company's reputation and image in an increasingly competitive environment.

Finally, disability is one of the factors that can contribute to "Diversity" and Diversity is a rising value within companies’ management. However, disability is often pushed behind in favour of other diversity criteria, thus disability needs to be specifically included within the CSR. 

RSS CSR News