Breathing life into corporate responsibility

For a number of years I pestered my partners to consider corporate social responsibility. I prepared papers and advocated our involvement at board meetings. They were reluctant, and unless able to identify a definite return (profile raising, marketing opportunities etc.), very few initiatives got through. What they considered as simply doing good was left to individual involvement. We had a line in our corporate brochure about it, but this was in truth mere lip-service. Recently two things have occurred. First I too began to question CSR, and whether there are better ways to engage with the communities in which we live and work. When law firms involve themselves, or more usually their junior fee earners, in pro bono work (as for most lawyers in private practice this is what they think about when they do think about CSR), there usually has to be a payback somewhere. And secondly, my partners have warmed to the idea, and a recent Strategy Board minute confirmed that CSR is now on the radar. So it was with interest that I read Michael Skapinker’s column Corporate responsibility is not quite dead in yesterday’s FT.

“Is corporate social responsibility dead? Yes, says Harvard Business Review’s “Conversation Starter” blog. CSR will increasingly be seen as a public relations sham, the bloggers say.

Yes, says my colleague Stefan Stern, who recently predicted on this page that companies would abandon CSR in favour of “sustainability”.

No, says the European Commission, which commends companies that “go beyond minimum legal requirements to address societal needs” and has just spent three years and €1.4m ($2m) producing a 108-page report on CSR.

Many will regard the Commission’s endorsement as a sure sign that CSR’s time has past. Its report, written by academics from Insead and other European business schools, certainly contains a fair amount of nonsense, including the “finding” that managers become more socially responsible if they meditate. Doing yoga, according to the report, seems to produce a broadly similar result.”

Skapinker is upbeat about corporate responsibility (you need to read the whole article) and I am rethinking my position.

One thought on “Breathing life into corporate responsibility

  1. As a consultant who has worked on CSR initiatives with major corporations I agree that much CSR activity seems to be Lip Service targeted at improving corporate PR to increasingly ethical investors.

    However, in the US I found that there was more interest in the other widely used name for CSR – The Triple Bottom Line. This name links initiatives more directly with corporate performance and therefore seems to find greater favor in the boardroom. Environmental and Societal responsibility has to go hand-in-hand with Economic responsibility, because if corporations do not survive then the softer initiatives they promote will die too. Sustainability is another newer name for CSR activities that perhaps focus on economic sustainability as a priority?

    CSR programs can have wide ranging goals which will differ from organization to organization. Some are simply happy to do good things within their communities, some want to stimulate their stock value in the short-term, others want to achieve lasting growth and sustainability…

    I would like you to visit my blog for more discussion on the issue of CSR – you can find it at :

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