Publication Redefining CSR: a future for business which makes equal sense to staff, shareholders and society

by Luke Robinson _______4th July 2003

Executive Summary

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is on the march in the UK, in Europe, and throughout the world. But is this a victory to celebrate? It all depends. For the same CSR practices can be understood in two different ways:

  1. Conviction or values-led CSR: one view of CSR is to see it as the expression of a company’s purpose and values in all its relationships. The process of reporting and dialogue would not be burdensome but it would particularly expose those companies which paraded their consciences without having the deeds to match.
  2. Compliance CSR: the other way of understanding CSR is to see it as a process by which companies are required by social pressures to comply with a widening range of social expectations. If all companies were to subscribe to this view, CSR would become like a fashion parade, where companies would win applause for wearing the right clothes and saying the right things in their reports, but where actually meaning what they said would not be important and CSR would be well isolated from “real” business activity.

This paper argues that the CSR which is emerging looks more like compliance CSR than conviction CSR. The majority of companies may state their compliance with the expectations of society. Only a minority communicate a clear sense of the strong purpose and values that differentiate a company from its competitors. The issue, ultimately, is trust. Companies face a crisis of trust. Trust depends on relationships. In every relationship, boundaries need to be set. Trust is not restored by ritual compliance: trust is restored by integrity – which literally means wholeness. It is the task of leaders to inspire and lay the foundations for trust.