What is Corporate Social Responsibility?
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be understood in terms of corporate responsibility with strong emphasis upon the obligations a company has to the community, particularly with respect to charitable activities and environmental concerns. The first level of corporate responsibility could be seen as being a sort of tacit agreement between a business and a community, whereby the community would give the business a place and an environment to operate, while in return the business would give the community jobs and tax money. With CSR the community expects more: it expects the business to preserve the environment in the broadest sense of the term and to make the community a better place to live and to work through charitable activities.
BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) goes further by talking about Integrated Business Models: “Businesses that integrate sustainability fully have a competitive advantage. Achieving that requires vision, innovation, and the right metrics and incentives.”
Usually, a company having a policy of CSR publishes a charter explaining how it understands the concept and goes about to apply it throughout their business practice.
The charter typically will have four or five main aspects to it:
Client and marketplace: It is the sustainability policy by which the company treats it clients and competitors.
Workplace: It is the Human Resources policy, notably with respect to safety and employment security.
Environment: This refers to the way the company approaches the issues concerning the planet. These should not be limited to carbon footprint.
Community: Here the company explains how it helps through charities, donations and charitable events.
And sometimes Economics: Here it refers to its policy with respect to taxes in a community, corruption, and other money matters.
There are many, if not the majority, of leading companies out there with publicized CSR charts and statements. CSR is an integral part of today’s way of doing business. Consultants and business advisers, lawyers, financial experts… many tell and show us the benefits of CSR from their specific point of view.
With this much social conscience, why are we still witnessing growing inequalities, increasing pollution and contamination, financial scandals at the highest corporate levels and corruption?
I don’t have all the answers of course, but I do believe the charts put up by the major companies, though they show genuine intention, do not reflect the level of actual social responsibility exercise.
Social responsibility, whether corporate or personal, is one of the highest forms of responsibility there is. In the day-to-day physical world, it is very rarely practiced. There is good reason for this: the meaning of the word responsibility itself.
According to Google, the definition is the following:
There are two notions here:
1 - That we have to deal with something
Note that this strict definition solely implies that a goal is set, and that we have to stick to it. It does not imply that it is up to us to make things happen. In actual professional situations, if things don’t happen the way they were planned, the person in charge is considered to be irresponsible or incompetent. Both are considered failures, and both are somehow punished or chastised for their ill doings.
2 - That we have control over someone
This implies that we have some psychological superiority to someone else and are therefore expected (by ourselves and by others) to control another human being. In this vision of things, responsibility is a hierarchical thing. It is bestowed upon some by a superior authority.
If we look at these things rationally, we find that they are impossible. Society recognizes the contradiction at some level and will alleviate us form our responsibility when it can be proven that forces beyond what “can be controlled” are involved. Severe natural events like storms or earthquakes are part of these events that allow us to be exempt from responsibility. Another case is when someone under our hierarchical command is judged mentally disturbed or ill. In fact, we have recently seen a whole catalogue of mental “disorders”, and many of our employees, and ourselves, could arguably fit one description or another.
Let’s consider sociopathic behavior for example. It is defined as a lack of empathy and an inability to identify with others coupled with a superficial charm, persuasiveness, focus, and egomania.
How can a sociopathic CEO enforce a CSR charter? Well, the fact is, no matter how much his intellectual self will want to and believe in CSR, his instinctive self or sub-conscious self (or however you wish to label this) will not be able to keep it up for long. And once the CSR is written and publicized, there is not much else being done. It is a bit like a new year’s resolution.
Is there something we can do about it? Well, we could start by changing our criteria about what makes a good CEO. We could also apply subtle social pressure to start the ball moving on
My point is that the notion of responsibility is a bizarre one with soft edges. And it HAS to be this way because of the nature of the human beast. Some people will put a lot hardship for themselves under the term “responsibility” and it will generate much stress. Others will generate a lot of hardship towards others under the term “responsibility” and it will propagate stress. Others yet will do both.
I believe that the only real responsibility we can hold is for ourselves. We can hold values, interpret them on a daily, even hourly, basis, and act in accordance with these values. Responsibility can only be behavioral, it cannot be objectively result based. Results are what happen normally after the proper series of natural behaviors are acted out towards a stated goal.
Where do you feel your responsibility lies in your professional, social or personal environments?