The emerging concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goes beyond charity and requires the company to act beyond its legal obligations and to integrated social, environmental and ethical concerns into company’s business process.
Business has today, emerged as one of the most powerful institutions on the earth. Some of the biggest companies in the world are in fact, bigger in size than some of the developing countries of the world. Globalization makes the world smaller, and business, worldwide, is expanding like never before. Companies are expanding their operations and crossing geographical boundaries.
Indian companies too have made their way into the business boom and are today globally acknowledged as major players. India is currently amongst the fastest growing countries in the world. The globalization and liberalization of the Indian economy has helped in stepping up growth rates. Integration of the Indian with the global economy has also resulted in Indian businesses opening up to international competition and thereby increasing their operations.
In the current scheme of things, business enterprises are no longer expected to play their traditional role of mere profit making enterprises. The ever-increasing role of civil society has started to put pressure on companies to act in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way.
The companies are facing increased pressure for transparency and accountability, being placed on them by their employees, customers, shareholders, media and civil society.
Business does not operate in isolation and there is today, an increased realization that not only can companies affect society at large, but they are also in a unique position to influence society and make positive impact.
Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate in Economics and author of several books wrote in 1970 in the New York Times Magazine that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits” and “the business of business is business”. This represented an extreme view that the only social responsibility a law-abiding business has is to maximize profits for the shareholders, which were considered the only stakeholders for the company. However, time has given the term ‘stakeholder’ wider connotations.
Edward Freeman defines, ‘a stakeholder in an organization is any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives.’ Thus, the term stakeholder includes (apart from shareholders), but not limited to, customers, employees, suppliers, community, environment and society at large.
These and a host of other such ideas have given rise to the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The concept of CSR goes beyond charity or philanthropy and requires the company to act beyond its legal obligations and to integrate social, environmental and ethical concerns into its business process. Business for Social Responsibility defines CSR as “achieving commercial success in ways that honor ethical values and respect people, communities, and the environment.
It means addressing the legal, ethical, commercial and other expectations that society has for business and making decisions that fairly balance the claims of all key stakeholders. In its simplest terms it is: “what you do, how you do it, and when and what you say.” A widely quoted definition by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development states that “Corporate social responsibility is the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large”.
Though, there is no universal definition of CSR but the common understanding amongst most of these definitions concern with how the profits are made and how they are used, keeping in mind the interests of all stakeholders. The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility is constantly evolving.
The emerging concept of CSR goes beyond charity and requires the company to act beyond its legal obligations and to integrate social, environmental and ethical concerns into company’s business process. What is generally understood by CSR is that the business has a responsibility – towards its stakeholders and society at large – that extends beyond its legal and enforceable obligations.
The triple bottom line approach to CSR emphasizes a company’s commitment to operating in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. The emerging concept of CSR advocates moving away from a ‘shareholder alone’ focus to a ‘multi-stakeholder’ focus. This would include investors, employees, business partners, customers, regulators, supply chain, local communities, the environment and society at large.
The key components of CSR would therefore include the following:
Governance: Within the ambit of corporate governance, major issues are the accountability, transparency and conduct in conformity with the laws. Good corporate governance policy would enable the company to realize its corporate objectives, protect shareholder rights, meet legal requirements and create transparency for all stakeholders.
Relates to value-based and ethical business practices. ‘Business ethics defines how a company integrates core values – such as honesty, trust, respect, and fairness – into its policies, practices, and decision making. Business ethics also involves a company’s compliance with legal standards and adherence to internal rules and regulations.’1
Workplace and labour relations
Human resources are most important and critical to a company. Good CSR practices relating to workplace and labour relations can help in improving the workplace in terms of health and safety, employee relations as well as result in a healthy balance between work and non-work aspects of employees’ life. It can also make it easier to recruit employees and make them stay longer, thereby reducing the costs and disruption of recruitment and retraining.
Affirmative action/good practices
Equal opportunity employer, diversity of workforce that includes people with disability, people from the local community etc., gender policy, code of conduct/guidelines on prevention of sexual harassment at workplace, prevention of HIV/AIDS at workplace, employee volunteering etc. are some of the good practices which reflect CSR practices of the company.
The business process of the company is not just limited to the operations internal to the company but to the entire supply chain involved in goods and services. If anyone from the supply chain neglects social, environmental, human rights or other aspects, it may reflect badly on the company and may ultimately affect business heavily. Thus, company should use its strategic position to influence the entire supply chain to positively impact the stakeholders.
The products and services of a company are ultimately aimed at the customers. The cost and quality of products may be of greatest concern to the customers but these are not the only aspects that the customers are concerned with. With increased awareness and means of communication, customer satisfaction and loyalty would depend on how the company has produced the goods and services, considering the social, environmental, supply-chain and other such aspects.
Merely meeting legal requirements in itself does not comprise CSR but it requires company to engage in such a way that goes beyond mandatory requirements and delivers environmental benefits. It would include, but not limited to, finding sustainable solutions for natural resources, reducing adverse impacts on environment, reducing environment-risky pollutants/emissions as well as producing environment-friendly goods.
A major stakeholder to the business is the community in which the company operates. The involvement of a company with the community would depend upon its direct interaction with the community and assessment of issues/risks faced by those living in the company surrounding areas. This helps in delivering a community-focused CSR strategy – making positive changes to the lives of the people and improving the brand-image of the company. Involvement with the community could be both direct & indirect – through funding and other support for community projects implemented by local agencies.