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Subject background


his unit deals with the topic of what is commonly referred to as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This is an expression used to describe two related features of business practice.

1 A company's obligation to be sensitive to the needs of all of its stakeholders (so not just shareholders, but also employees, customers, suppliers, community organizations,
subsidiaries, local neighborhoods, etc.).

2 The principle of 'sustainable development', which says that businesses should make
decisions based not only on financial / economic factors, but also on the social and
environmental consequences of their activities.

So CSR covers:

• business and the environment (reporting and regulation of waste, sustainable production,

• people in the workplace (equal opportunities, encouraging employee involvement,
promoting diversity, health and safety, labour standards, family-friendly policies)

• community affairs (developing programmes for effective engagement with local

• reputation management (using good practice as part of the marketing message of the
company, as well as PR when things go wrong).

There is a lot of activity in the field of CSR.

• At the European level there is the European Alliance for CSR, launched by the EU in 2006
(link given below).

• At the national level there is a UK government body for CSR (link below).

• There is a private sector initiative in the UK called 'Business in the Community' (link below).

• At the individual company level, there are many big names proudly stating their activities
in this field on their websites.

• There are many university courses devoted to the subject.

It is clear that CSR has become an established and important area in the business world. Indeed, good practice in CSR is now a key part of many companies' marketing strategy. Businesses stress their green and community credentials in their advertisements, and most annual reports these days would be incomplete without the CEO making reference to their company's beneficial effects on society and the environment.

But not everyone is happy with the idea that business has a role to play in CSR. Some people would argue that this is the proper responsibility of government, not business. Where are the limits? Consider these areas:

• human rights

• fair trade

• sustainable consumption.

These areas are on the borderline between social policy (the responsibility of government) and business policy.

In general, companies are usually happy to comply with social and environmental legislation. But they want to see a 'level playing field' with other companies also having to comply. Acting alone, a business has few guidelines on how to proceed (it is not their job to set social policy) and by raising standards they run the risk of increasing costs (and thereby losing profitability, causing layoffs, etc.).

A few companies are happy to take the lead and be pioneers in this field. The Body Shop is perhaps the best-known example, but BP is at the forefront of developing green energy and Marks & Spencer is famous for its diversity, employee involvement and CSR policies generally.


The EU organization referred to above has a website with a useful glossary:


The UK government body is:


And the UK private sector initiative is:


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