Corporate Social Responsibility
“Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) means something, but not always the same thing to everybody. To some it conveys the idea of legal responsibility or liability; to others, it means socially responsible behaviour in the ethical sense; to still others, the meaning transmitted is that of ‘responsible for’ in a causal mode; many simply equate it with a charitable contribution; some take it to mean socially conscious; many of those who embrace it most fervently see it as a mere synonym for legitimacy in the context of belonging or being proper or valid; a few see a sort of fiduciary duty imposing higher standards of behaviour on businessmen than on citizens at large” (Votaw, 1972).
In simpler terms the responsibilities being referred to are: economic, social and environmental as described by Archie Carroll as early as 1979 (Carroll, 1979). Both Votaw and Carroll highlight the fluidity and challenges in defining CSR.
Away from the environmental and social aspects, economic benefits stem from the adopting policies to steal a march on rivals or to reduce inefficiencies. Social policies usually mean giving back to communities where the company has an impact whether through philanthropy or working directly with those communities (Falck & Heblich, 2007) (Porter & Kramer, 2002). The environmental elements aim to go beyond compliance and beyond the minimisation of environmental impacts towards having a positive role in stewardship. Coke for example, as part of their CSR strategy, works with the World Wildlife Fund in integrated water management while BMW stole a march on its rivals by pre-empting German regulations regarding the recyclability of materials (Senge, 2010). Their design-for-environment vehicles became the industry standard for dismantling and disassembling cars to which other car companies had to adapt with much higher costs giving BMW early adopter advantage (Hart, 1995).
That there are semantic differences in the interpretation of CSR is not surprising as different businesses rely on different resources, yet there is a common goal – businesses moving from being less bad to actively doing “good”. Being involved in areas such as sustainable research and development, actively seeking to reduce pollution and working on labour rights are often issues facilitated by CSR departments (Barth, 2009). A solid CSR strategy means that a company has “ethos and values… principles frequently expressed in its vision or goals” (Jenkins, 2006). Within the business sector, there is now an inherent understanding of the interconnectedness of the world, that an approach is needed that demonstrates transparency, ethical behaviour, respect for all parties and a commitment to add value (economic, social and environmental) (Sustainability, 2004). A fact endorsed by Nick Robertson, CEO of fast growing online retailer ASOS.com who created a section on their website dedicated to sustainable and ethical fashion (Croft, 2010). In addition, there are tangible benefits to being a more responsible company in terms of gaining competitive advantage and reputation enhancement (Azzone, 1994) (Pujari, 2006) (Hart, 1995) (Branco, 2006) (Surroca, Tribo, & Waddock, 2006).