What is corporate social responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility is the realization that business has a broader responsibility to society to serve a wider range of human values than just its own financial goals. Business enterprises, in effect, are being asked to contribute more to the quality of life than just supplying jobs, as well as quantities of goods and services. Inasmuch as business exists to serve society, its future will depend on the quality of management’s response to the changing expectations of the public.

But, does this definition really tell the whole story?

Now there is new information that has come to light, sparking a debate as to whether or not the above statement is sufficient.  Some people refuse to budge on that definition… however others are embracing a new evolution of the definition that has begun quietly working its way through corporate circles like a computer virus infecting everything in its path. This new view represents a kind of evolution of business thinking.

This new and creative way to approach the answer is to think about it as indigenous cultures might define it. Those ancient cultures lived close to Nature, and close to each other.  They lived by what might be called, the Principles of Nature. A system that has created a sustainable world with a myriad of life forms, for millions of years. An impressive track record, no matter how you look at it!

To live in harmony with Nature is just another way of saying how to live in harmony with each other, as a family, as a business, and as a society. This video explains the breadth of this new way of thinking about how corporations and governments must embrace a new way of doing business that is socially responsible and sustainable.

The fact is that we are all connected, in several ways, socially being one of the primary connectors. This social connection means we are stakeholders in each other’s lives, and our society as a whole. This connection exists whether we are at home, or at work. This distinction between home and work has predominated for many years in the minds of business leaders.  It is time for a change, because this artificial dichotomy has proven itself to be unsustainable.

Indigenous peoples, from antiquity, lived in community, as well. Their lives were intimately connected socially. These communities were often referred to as tribes. They banded together because they could accomplish more as a group than they could as individuals. It enhanced their survivability. Businesses are like tribes. They band together for a common purpose that increases their chances of survivability and sustainability.

The notion of corporate social responsibility as a separate concept from family social responsibility is a foreign concept when seen through the wisdom of indigenous peoples.  Corporations have a social responsibility to the communities they serve, be it local, national, or international. They live, and do business in these communities.  That responsibility extends to its employees, vendors, even its competitors.

One of the core values of indigenous peoples is to give something in return to those from whom you have taken, in this case, to the community in which you do business.  This represents the principle of balance; a core Principle of Nature. This concept carries with it a sense of moral responsibility, as well as a practical value of making the market place in which they do business a more economically robust and hospitable place to live and do business.

The French notion of noblesse oblige is similar. It refers to the moral obligation of nobility to be honorable and generous. Today’s nobility is certainly exemplified by corporations.  If those who have wealth don’t reinvest some of that wealth in the communities they serve, and who serve them in return, the system of commerce we have devised will not be sustainable.  In many ways, the economic and ecological problems we face in our world today, are the result of companies whose operational principles are not sustainable.

In effect, corporate social responsibility is the same as a personal responsibility to ourselves, and to others, as well as to our culture world wide.  How a company gives back to its community may vary, but it needs to be sincere, not just a public relations strategy.  Whether the giving is monetary, or in a service to the community, it is important that we take seriously the idea of corporate social responsibility.  Since a corporation is in effect giving back to itself, it’s really a gesture of enlightened self-interest. It helps to create a sustainable world for individuals, for businesses, and for the planet.

Rob Williams — Originator of PER-K®