Corporate social responsibility

From Academic Kids

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a companys obligation to be accountable to all of its stakeholders in all its operations and activities with the aim of achieving sustainable development not only in the economical dimension but also in the social and environmental dimensions.

A companys stakeholders are all those who are influenced by and can influence a companys decisions and actions, both locally or globally. Business stakeholders include (but are not limited to): employees, customers, suppliers, community organizations, subsidiaries and affiliates, joint venture partners, local neighborhoods, investors, shareholders (or a sole owner), and the environment.


Development and analysis

Today’s heightened interest in the proper role of businesses in society has been promoted by increased sensitivity to ethical issues. Issues like environmental damage, improper treatment of workers, and faulty production leading to customers inconvenience or danger, are highlighted in the media. Government regulation regarding environmental and social issues has increased. Investors and investment fund managers have begun to make investment decisions based on social sustainability as well as pure economics. Consumers have become increasingly sensitive to the social performance of the companies from which they buy their goods and services. This accumulation of industry forces pressure firms to operate in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way.

Once this was done by spending money on community improving projects, endowing scholarships, and/or encouraging workers to volunteer (blood drives and reading programs are common examples). For many corporations, community outreach programs create good will in the community. This can indirectly increase revenue.

Now, the mission of a socially responsible organization is to take into account the full scope of their impact on communities and the environment when making decisions, balancing the needs of stakeholders with their need to make a profit. This holistic approach to business regards organizations as full partners in their communities, rather than measuring them solely on the basis of products and profits.

Some companies have developed ‘triple line’ reporting to show not only profits, but also social and environmental impact. Countries like France have made the issuance of such a reporting compulsory in the annual report of public listed companies. New measures need to be developed if the benefits from profits, social impact and environmental impact can be effectively weighed against each other.

Examples of corporate social responsibility

  • Most large companies now produce social reports that cover CSR issues. The balance is different from company to company and it is not always clear that companies carry out what they say across the whole organisation. The UK Cooperative bank is considered a model but even tobacco companies like BAT produce social reports.

Critical points of view

Some critics, such as the economist Milton Friedman, argue that a corporation's principal purpose is to maximize profits for its shareholders, but only within the context of the law and morality. Some would argue that the only reason to take on social projects is for utilitarian reasons, such as currying favor with the public or with government, or to improve market standing. Others, such as the philosopher Michael E. Berumen, suggest that a business is property belonging to the owners, not stakeholders, and that a business is not equivalent to a mini-state for the purpose of creating social justice or carrying out social planning, and that the owners have the right to dispose of their property as they see fit within the limits of morality, including for profit, social good, or both.

Proponents of CSR would suggest a number of reasons why self interested corporations, seeking to solely to maximise profits are unable to advance the interests of society as a whole:

  • Corporations care little for the welfare of workers, and given the opportunity will move production to sweatshops in less well regulated countries.
  • Unchecked, companies will squander scarce resources.
  • Companies do not pay the full costs of their impact. For example the costs of cleaning pollution often fall on society in general. As a result profits of corporations are enhanced at the expense of social or ecological welfare.
  • Regulation is the best way to ensure that companies remain socially responsible.

On the other hand, supporters of a more market based approach would argue that, by and large, free markets and capitalism have been at the centre of social development over the past couple of centuries. Few would disagree that improvements in health, longevity or infant mortality have gone hand in hand with economic development. In particular:

  • In order to attract quality workers, it is necessary to offer better pay and conditions. Furthermore, investment in less developed countries contributes to the welfare of those societies, notwithstanding that these countries have fewer protections in place for workers. Failure to invest in these countries decreases the opportunity to increase social welfare.
  • Free markets contribute to the effective management of scarce resources. The prices of many commodities have fallen in recent years. This contradicts the notion of scarcity, and may be attributed to improvements in technology leading to the more efficient use of resources.
  • There are indeed occasions when externalities, such as the costs of pollution are not built into normal market prices in a free market. In these circumstances, regulatory intervention is important to redress the balance, to ensure that costs and benefits are correctly aligned.

Whilst regulation is necessary in certain circumstances, over regulation creates barriers to entry into a market. These barriers increase the opportunities for excess profits, to the delight of the market participants, but do little to serve the interests of society as a whole.


It is clearly good that businesses should seek to minimise their negative social and environmental impact resulting from their economic activity. A firm which develops new engine technology to reduce hydrocarbon consumption may be able to deploy its CSR credentials and increase profits. Clearly this represents good management.

CSR could be quite misguided, however. A company which recycles components in a manner which used more resources than were required to produce the original component is at best well intentioned, but in reality is harming both the environment and profits.

Some CSR initiatives, such as charitable donations, result in positive social contribution at the expense of profits. For those who subscribe to Milton Friedman's theories, it is these profits whereby corporations do the most good, as it is profits that enrich society.

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