Corporate Social Responsibility: Business Commitment, or Marketing Strategy?

We often hear about ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR) or ‘Business Social Responsibility’ (BSR) as concepts which refer to the contribution that organisations make both to society, and to the socio-economic milieu, in which they undertake their activity. Personally, though, I cannot help but question whether its use might have been stepped up in many cases as a simple publicity stunt. It would seem that for any modern business model of value, CSR has become an indispensable tool, to essentially, ‘market’ responsible business behaviour. But I ask myself, isn’t there more to it than that?

CSR is defined by the European Commission as “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis”. Bringing this closer to home, society today is demanding more and more socially responsible behaviour from organisations (increasingly ethical, transparent, respectful, fair, green, clean, etc.), rewarding with attention and loyalty those who go beyond the mere compliance of their legal obligations. 

We may still be very misled as to the true nature of this concept, and there is still a long way to go for organisations before this policy of socially responsible business begins to bear any fruit. Nonetheless, we’re not talking about CSR as a marketing tool, or of communication strategy. Nor is it about ‘whitewashing’ company activity in order to generate greater social demand whilst increasing profits and profitability. But it’s not about pure altruism either.

What we are really talking about are commitments made with each one of the players we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Along with adhering to a strict code of professional ethics, these commitments include: promoting values within the organisation out of respect to the environment; being committed to the professional development of employees; and, both developing the local community, and how we engage with that community from a position of transparency and solidarity.

In the midst of the enormously complex situation we find ourselves in, a number of experts, such as Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, have advanced their research in this field considerably. In fact, these authors have taken their work one step beyond how CSR is conceptually defined by coining a new term: “Creation of shared value”.

In their respective theses, Porter and Kramer appeal to the need for relating the competitiveness of organisations to the well-being of the communities in which they do business. This would be achieved by means of offering new products, turning to new clients, or studying new ways of designing the value chain.

Given the growing importance of CSR today, I propose that each individual organisation, carefully think over its own stance on this issue. Furthermore, strong leadership and ongoing support from Management is required for CSR to be successfully implemented. Finally, CSR must be fully immersed in the company’s future strategy, be aligned with the company’s identity and its business culture, while permeating all levels of the organisation.

Rooting these values in the organisation’s strategy is one of the great unresolved challenges facing organisations that are truly committed to implementing CSR on a grand scale. Will we be able to advance towards this new vision of social responsibility?

 

*Published in RSE - Estrategia Empresarial (Strategy Supplement) December 2013 (issue)

*Published in RSE - Estrategia Empresarial (Strategy Supplement) December 2013 (PDF)

Lucía Hidalgo

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