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Corporate Social Responsibility: Concept with no Limits

Updated on June 19, 2013
There are hundreds of definitions of what CSR entails.
There are hundreds of definitions of what CSR entails. | Source

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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    • Tricia1000 profile image

      Tricia1000 6 years ago from South Africa

      Yes, I agree, but is it really possible to establish the impact of CSR? How can its effectiveness be measured?

    • EricGoode profile image

      EricGoode 6 years ago from Chattanooga, Tennessee

      I agree that CSR does create a favorable image for a company, but remember that what truly defines the effectiveness of CSR is the actual positive impact that the company makes in relation to the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the society. Strictly saying that companies instill CSR in strategic planning just to be seen in a positive light discounts those companies who are major contributors to the overall well-being of society as a whole. You do have companies which use CSR this way, but you still have a proportion that use CSR in what you view is the correct way to utilize it.