What is CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)?


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to business practices involving initiatives that benefit society. A business’s CSR can encompass a wide variety of tactics, from giving away a portion of a company’s proceeds to charity, to implementing “greener” business operations.

Definition of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The movement aimed at encouraging companies to be more aware of the impact of their business on the rest of society, including their own stakeholders and the environment. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.

CSR is a concept with many definitions and practices. The way it is understood and implemented differs greatly from each company and country. Moreover, CSR is a very broad concept that addresses many and various topics such as human rights, corporate governance, health and safety, environmental effects, working conditions and contribution to economic development. Whatever the definition is, the purpose of CSR is to drive change towards sustainability.

Although some companies may achieve remarkable efforts with unique CSR initiatives, it is difficult to be on the forefront on all aspects of CSR. Considering this, the example below provides good practices on one aspect of CSR environmental sustainability.

Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate Social Responsibility

Example; Unilever is a multinational corporation, in the food and beverage sector, with a comprehensive CSR strategy. The company has been ranked “Food Industry leader’ in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Indexes for the 11 consecutive years and ranked 7th in the ‘Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World.”

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One of the major and unique initiatives is the ‘sustainable tea’ program.  On a partnership-based model with the Rainforest Alliance (an NGO), Unilever aims to source all of its Lipton and PG Tips tea bags from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms by 2015.  The Rainforest Alliance Certification offers farms a way to differentiate their products as being social, economically and environmentally sustainable.

Other Definitions

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development in its publication Making Good Business Sense by Lord Holme and Richard Watts used the following definition:

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 The same report gave some evidence of the different perceptions of what this should mean for a number of different societies across the world. Definitions as different as CSR is about capacity building for sustainable livelihoods. It respects cultural differences and finds the business opportunities in building the skills of employees, the community and the government of Ghana, through to CSR is about business giving back to society from the Philippines.

Traditionally in the United States, CSR has been defined much more in terms of a philanthropist model. Companies make profits, unhindered except by fulfilling their duty to pay taxes. Then they donate a certain share of the profits to charitable causes. It is seen as tainting the act for the company to receive any benefit from the giving.

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What is the Social Responsibility of Business?


Ever since Milton Friedman famously proclaimed “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” (NYTimes 1970), pundits have pondered whether his purist interpretation was really the only way.

Profit is certainly a lot easier to quantify than something like ‘happiness’, but the intangible benefits of good, honest business clearly go way beyond pure finance Must the word ‘profit’ always refer to money in the strictest sense?

Collected on this page are various interpretations of the idea of “social responsibility” and the responsibility of business to take an active, passive or indifferent role in building a more sustainable world.

There are a few broad categories of social responsibility that many of today’s businesses are practicing:

I) Environmental efforts: One primary focus of corporate social responsibility is the environment. Businesses regardless of size have a large carbon footprint. Any steps they can take to reduce those footprints are considered both good for the company and society as a whole.

II) Philanthropy: Businesses also practice social responsibility by donating to national and local charities. Businesses have a lot of resources that can benefit charities and local community programs.

III) Ethical labor practices: By treating employees fairly and ethically, companies can also demonstrate their corporate social responsibility. This is especially true of businesses that operate in international locations with labor laws that differ from those in the United States.

IV) Volunteering: Attending volunteer events says a lot about a company’s sincerity. By doing good deeds without expecting anything in return, companies are able to express their concern for specific issues and support for certain organizations.

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Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

While many companies now practice some form of social responsibility, some are making it a core of their operations. Ben and Jerry’s, for instance, uses only fair trade ingredients and has developed a sustainability program for dairy farms in its home state of Vermont. Starbucks has created its C.A.F.E. Practices guidelines, which are designed to ensure the company sources sustainably grown and processed coffee by evaluating the economic, social and environmental aspects of coffee production. Tom’s Shoes, another notable example of a company with CSR at its core, donates one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair a customer purchases.

However, Stevens said companies need to really understand what their core social purpose is and how that aligns with their stated mission, to create a cohesive CSR strategy.

For example, Stevens said that Kashi, a Kellogg’s brand, wants to increase organic farming and is one of the few certified organic kinds of cereal. Since only 1 percent of U.S. farmland is actually organic, the breakfast brand worked with Quality Insurance International to help certify new organic farmers across the nation.

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