Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

Corporate social responsibility (CSR, also called corporate sustainability, sustainable business, corporate conscience, corporate citizenship or responsible business) is a type of international private business self-regulation. While once it was possible to describe CSR as an internal organisational policy or a corporate ethic strategy, that time has passed as various international laws have been developed and various organisations have used their authority to push it beyond individual or even industry-wide initiatives. While it has been considered a form of corporate self-regulation for some time, over the last decade or so it has moved considerably from voluntary decisions at the level of individual organisations, to mandatory schemes at regional, national and even transnational levels.

Considered at the organisational level, CSR is an organisational policy. As such, it must align with and be integrated into a business model to be successful. With some models, a firm’s implementation of CSR goes beyond compliance with regulatory requirements, and engages in “actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law”. The choices of ‘complying’ with the law, failing to comply, and ‘going beyond’ are three distinct strategic organisational choices. While in many areas such as environmental or labor regulations, employers may choose to comply with the law, or go beyond the law, other organisations may choose to flout the law. These organisations are taking on clear legal risks. The nature of the legal risk, however, changes when attention is paid to soft law. Soft law may incur legal liability particularly when businesses make misleading claims about their sustainability or other ethical credentials and practices. Overall, businesses may engage in CSR for strategic or ethical purposes. From a strategic perspective, the aim is to increase long-term profits and shareholder trust through positive public relations and high ethical standards to reduce business and legal risk by taking responsibility for corporate actions. CSR strategies encourage the company to make a positive impact on the environment and stakeholders including consumers, employees, investors, communities, and others. From an ethical perspective, some businesses will adopt CSR policies and practices because of ethical beliefs of senior management. For example, a CEO may believe that harming the environment is ethically objectionable.

Proponents argue that corporations increase long-term profits by operating with a CSR perspective, while critics argue that CSR distracts from businesses’ economic role. A 2000 study compared existing econometric studies of the relationship between social and financial performance, concluding that the contradictory results of previous studies reporting positive, negative, and neutral financial impact, were due to flawed empirical analysis and claimed when the study is properly specified, CSR has a neutral impact on financial outcomes. Critics questioned the “lofty” and sometimes “unrealistic expectations” in CSR. or that CSR is merely window-dressing, or an attempt to pre-empt the role of governments as a watchdog over powerful multinational corporations. In line with this critical perspective, political and sociological institutionalists became interested in CSR in the context of theories of globalization, neoliberalism and late capitalism. Some institutionalists viewed CSR as a form of capitalist legitimacy and in particular point out that what began as a social movement against uninhibited corporate power was transformed by corporations into a ‘business model’ and a ‘risk management’ device, often with questionable results.

CSR is titled to aid an organization’s mission as well as serve as a guide to what the company represents for its consumers. Business ethics is the part 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.

Since the 1960s, corporate social responsibility has attracted attention from a range of businesses and stakeholders. A wide variety of definitions have been developed but with little consensus. Part of the problem with definitions has arisen because of the different interests represented. A business person may define CSR as a business strategy, an NGO activist may see it as ‘greenwash’ while a government official may see it as voluntary regulation.” In addition, disagreement about the definition will arise from the disciplinary approach.” For example, while an economist might consider the director’s discretion necessary for CSR to be implemented a risk of agency costs, a law academic may consider that discretion to be an appropriate expression of what the law demands from directors.

Corporate social responsibility has recently been defined by Sheehy as “international private business self-regulation.” Sheehy examined a range of different disciplinary approaches to defining CSR. The definitions reviewed included the economic definition of “sacrificing profits,” a management definition of “beyond compliance”, institutionalist views of CSR as a “socio-political movement” and law’s own focus on directors’ duties. Further, Sheehy considered Carroll’s widely used description of CSR as a pyramid of responsibilities, namely, economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities. Importantly, while Carroll was not defining CSR but simply arguing for classification of activities, Sheehy developed a definition differently following the philosophy of science—the branch of philosophy used for defining phenomena.

Carroll 1991 extended corporate social responsibility from the traditional economic and legal responsibility to ethical and philanthropic responsibility in response to the rising concerns on ethical issues in businesses, . This view is reflected in the Business Dictionary which defines CSR as “A company’s sense of responsibility towards the community and environment (both ecological and social) in which it operates. Companies express this citizenship (1) through their waste and pollution reduction processes, (2) by contributing educational and social programs and (3) by earning adequate returns on the employed resources.”

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