Last updated on 3 April 2019 at 12:13 pm
Corporate Social Responsibility has only been around for a few decades, and in that time, it has matured tremendously. We’ve found out that businesses are one of the most powerful driving forces on the planet. At it’s best, businesses drive innovation, mutual well-being and human progress. At it’s worst, businesses can reveal the darker and more destructive sides of our collective selves.
But something else that we’ve found in all these years of Corporate Social Responsibility is that there are more ways than one that it can be used to the sole benefit of corporations. CSR is supposed to be win-win—but there is a colossal gray area when it comes to measuring mutual benefit. And, as with all things, we’ve found that human selfishness always finds a way to corrupt and circumvent the things that are meant to be Good.
Amongst the various arguments against CSR, one of the most popular and enduring is the idea that Corporate Social Responsibility sells. People who support this argument claim that the motive of corporations who engage in CSR is not to be socially responsible, but to build brand loyalty in it’s customers. In this way, CSR becomes more of a PR exercise than a genuine effort at addressing social problems. Certainly, this idea lends itself a lot of credit. There has been an exponential trend in consumer preference towards socially responsible products and companies. According to an article published by Forbes, more than 88% of consumers think companies should try to achieve their business goals while improving society and the environment. In the face of such a phenomenon, how can corporations prevent themselves from blurring the line between the motives of self-interest and social interest?
Furthermore, as Corporate Social Responsibility further matures, we find that even the focus on “corporate” is limiting. Afterall, this promotes the idea that social responsibility should be bourne only by the “big guys”; or in other words, only corporations that can afford to be socially responsible; when in fact, social responsibility is a duty that must be upheld, whether one can afford it or not.
Rachel Hutchisson, Corporate Social Responsibility expert, advocates for the shift from Corporate to Human Social Responsibility. The idea that all organizations of all sizes are, and should be, socially responsible. Watch her memorable TED Talk below:
Some even advocate for Customer Social Responsibility, advocating to shift the burden of responsibility from the corporation to the consumer, using purchasing power as the watchdog that keeps corporations in line. Environmental organisations like the Rainforest Alliance, that guard against the potential damage that the colossal palm oil industry can cause, verify the sustainability of oil palm farms and grants certification to sustainable palm oil products with the signature Rainforest Alliance frog seal.
This gives power to consumers to make socially responsible decisions by allowing them to reward sustainable products and punish unsustainable ones.
As Corporate Social Responsibility matures even further, and – most likely – dies off and gets replaced by other mechanisms to balance our destructive and restorative natures, we will likely see the burden of social responsibility switch hands multiple times, from businesses to governments to the people. But one thing is clear: we have to land on an effective formula soon, because our time is running out.
written by Lucas Chen, Communications Manager, SOLS 24/7 Malaysia, July 2017
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