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Introduction to Corporate Social Responsibility

    Introduction to Corporate Social Responsibility

    Corporate social responsibility is a company’s sense of obligation towards social and physical environments in which it operates.


    Explain the purpose and types of corporate social responsibility


    Key Points

    • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be described as embracing responsibility and encouraging a positive impact through the company’s activities related to the environment, consumers, employees, communities, and other stakeholders.
    • Corporate social responsibility may include philanthropic efforts, employee volunteering, and core strategies. Companies may benchmark their CSR performance relative to peers and may also report on CSR policies or undergo social audits.
    • Proponents of CSR argue that socially responsible practices can have a positive impact on the bottom line and may also argue for the recognition of a “triple bottom line” that rewards social, environmental, and financial returns.
    • Critics argue that CSR competes with shareholder value maximization and may be prone to “greenwashing”.

    Key Terms

    • benchmark: A standard by which something is evaluated or measured.
    • shareholder: One who owns shares of stock in a business.
    • stakeholder: A person or organization with a legitimate interest in a given situation, action, or enterprise.

    Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), also referred to as corporate citizenship or socially responsible business, is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model. The interest in CSR has grown with the spread of socially responsible investing, the attention of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and ethics training within organizations. Recent incidents of ethics-based corporate scandals have also increased awareness of CSR. Organizations that embrace CSR hold themselves accountable to others for their actions and seek to make a positive impact on the environment, their communities, and the larger society.

    Corporate social responsibility may include philanthropic efforts such as charitable donations or programs that encourage employee volunteerism by providing paid time off for such activities. Many organizations seek to have an even greater impact through CSR initiatives that integrate social values into operational and business strategies. For example, to protect scarce natural resources, a firm may make a commitment to use only recycled materials in its packaging of consumer goods.

    Many organizations promote their CSR efforts as a way of shaping public perceptions, attracting customers, and building good will with stakeholders. Public companies often report CSR policies and activities in their annual reports; some create separate documents or use their websites to describe and publicize their CSR-related efforts. Organizations and interested external third parties assess CSR performance by comparing, or benchmarking, the activities and their results with competitors or other sets of organizations. Measures include amount of expenditures or investment, degree of executive engagement, impact of implementation, and CSR outcomes relative to objectives.


    Green building: This company building in the UK was created from green materials.

    The scale and nature of the benefits of CSR to an organization can be difficult to quantify. Those driven by strategic and operational choices may result in higher or lower costs, but directly linking CSR initiatives to revenue increases is not always possible. Many organization use non-financial measures to assess the benefits of CSR. For example, socially responsible practices can improve employee recruitment and retention efforts, be a means of managing risk, and provide brand differentiation. Some business critics of CSR, however, argue that too often it competes with a duty to maximize shareholder value. Others cast the CSR efforts of companies as “greenwashing” efforts to draw attention away from unpopular practices such as polluting the environment or outsourcing jobs overseas.

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