Business Ethics Blog: CSR is Not C-S-R

Business Ethics Blog: CSR is Not C-S-R

Regular readers will know that, over the last month, I've posted 3 blog entries critiquing the term "corporate social responsibility" (CSR). I've asked, rhetorically, whether the "C," the "S," and the "R" make sense. I've argued that, no, in each case the word those letters stand for fail to capture the range of issues devotees of "CSR" typically think are important. Basically, the conclusion is that "Corporate Social Responsibility" isn't (just) about corporations, isn't just about social questions, and isn't just about responsibilities.

Now, this isn't to say that there's no topic at all that would suit the term "CSR." If you really are just interested in corporations (and not other kinds of businesses), and if you really are just interested in their obligations (and find questions of rights, permissions, values, and virtues relatively uninteresting), and if you really are only interested in corporations' outward-looking, specifically social obligations, well, then I guess you really are talking about CSR. But I suspect the number of people — and the number of companies — whose interests are that narrow is pretty small.

So, this all seems to imply:

  • If you want companies to think carefully about the full range of normative (ethical) questions related to commerce, don't ask them about CSR.
  • If you want business students to be prepared for the decisions they'll one day face as manager, don't teach them courses in CSR.
  • If you're interested in learning a bit more about the ethical challenges faced by business, don't read a book with "CSR" in the title.
  • If your company wants to manage effectively the full range of ethical issues it's likely to face, and not just one subset, don't hire a "CSR" consultant.

Now, clearly I'm trying to be a bit provocative. You could have good reasons to do each of the things I'm warning against above. And many companies and consultants who use the term "CSR" use it, I'm sure, as a mere term of convenience, and are fully aware that it's only a very rough label for the full range of ethical issues in business. But if you care about the topics I've covered in the last 3 blog entries on this topic, and if you happen to find yourself talking to a company or consultant (or professor) who's excited about CSR, you might want to ask a few questions about what they mean by that.


This blog entry by Chris MacDonald appeared originally on The Business Ethics Blog.