MT Masterclass - corporate social responsibility

What is it? Do you believe that business is about more than simply making money? That your actions as a business leader may have serious consequences for your staff, your customers and the wider community?

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

If so, then you are, perhaps unwittingly, an advocate of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Of course, you might say that businesses should always act ethically and responsibly. That may be true, but as anti-business protests grow ever louder, self-interest dictates that businesses look carefully at their activities to see if they pass the 'how would this look on the front page of my newspaper?' test.

Where did it come from?

As the pace of globalisation accelerated through the 1990s, the perception grew that big business was also a 'big citizen' of the world. In the face of protest, business had to consider its wider responsibilities more closely.

The 'triple bottom line' - profits, people, environment - became a proper corporate goal, as did 'sustainability'. Ultimately, CSR is based on the belief that business is a moral activity.

Where's it going? Gimmicky, PR-led management has done serious harm to the worthwhile aims of CSR.

Many CSR initiatives are now met with cynicism - the collapsed energy giant Enron was a generous corporate donor. It's how you make your money that counts, not what you do with it. CSR has been undermined by glib, unthinking executives, who have regarded it as an optional add-on, rather than an all-encompassing philosophy. Such business leaders have talked loudly about their burning desire to 'put something back'. But this poses another question: If you really feel the need to do this, have you perhaps taken too much already?

Fad Quotient (out of 10) Six ...and it won't go away.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Books for the weekend: Daniel Goleman, Jack Welch, Nelson Mandela

Beaverbrooks CEO Anna Blackburn shares her reading list.

What happens next: COVID-19 lessons from Italian CEOs

Part I: Marco Alvera, chief executive of €15bn Lombardy-based energy firm Snam, on living with...

Coronavirus communications: Dos and don'ts

Uncertainty and isolation make it more important than ever to be seen, to be heard...

Leadership lessons: Mervyn Davies, former CEO of Standard Chartered and trade minister

"People talk about pressure – I worked 24 hours a day. There is more pressure...

How to reinvent your career through motherhood and midlife

Pay it Forward podcast: Former Marie Claire editor-in-chief Trish Halpin and BITE managing editor Nicky...