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Corporate Social Responsibility: Concept with no Limits
CSR Umbrella Concepts
One of hundreds of definitions of CSR is the one by the European Commission (2010) who defines corporate social responsibility (CSR) as “A concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis”.
This definition elucidates the different dimensions of good CSR activities, namely adopting social, ecological, integrated and voluntary business principles that are accepted by all stakeholders. However, CSR is often also referred to as corporate social investment, corporate sustainability, community relations, investor relations, corporate citizenship, corporate philanthropy, ethical communication, triple bottom line reporting and corporate governance, responsible and sustainable corporation (RSC), societal marketing, social marketing and numerous others. It is almost as if CSR is a theoretical concept with no limits.
Does it really matter how CSR is being referred to?
But does it really matter how CSR is being referred to? It is clear from literature on the topic that the confusion of what CSR entails also contributes to the way in which it is being interpreted and implemented by businesses. A business’s CSR actions essentially are guided by strategic decision-making and are often used as part of its branding strategy. CSR is aligned with the mission, vision and values of the business. How CSR is perceived by the management of a business thus also influences how it is being adopted and implemented. Apart from different perceptions of what CSR entails, numerous guides and principles also exist, for instance, the G3 Guidelines which are the foundation of the GRI Sustainability Reporting Framework and the ISO 26000 to name but a few.
My perspective is that how CSR is being referred to only matters in terms of how it is being adopted by a business. CSR should not merely be a public relations exercise to create a favourable image of the business (“window-dressing). The business should really make a difference in society without only wanting to gain from it financially. It is very difficult to measure the outcome of a business’ CSR activities as it cannot be controlled by the business. The sincerity of a business cannot thus also not be validated.
Hopefully there will be a universally accepted definition of CSR in the near future which will also facilitate its implementation.
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