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Corporate Social Responsibility: it’s about daily action not penance

I have always found it convenient that in some schools of thought you can wipe your slate clean and continue as if nothing happened, leaving you free to offend and repent over and over again. Charitably too, people give generously but perhaps don’t think about their everyday actions. As benefactors of good causes their offences could be forgiven, so any daily slip-ups are excused.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been depicted in these terms by sociologists – a cloak for companies to legitimise their capitalist ways and further separate themselves from their wage earner employees. You don’t need to look after the community your company is part of, you can operate relentlessly for your financial gains that benefit the few… But it’s ok because you have a CSR team and you give x% to charity, right?  How about we even give you a knighthood and hold your company as a beacon of the national industry?

Legitimise capitalist ways

This is an extreme way of looking at CSR, but a valid viewpoint to consider – especially with the practice becoming a competition between brands as to who is the most ethical. Instead of seeing CSR as absolution or a justification, companies should see it as a conscience that expands the role of their brands into everyday good-doers. The mark of a good CSR initiative is that the organisation inspires good in each and every stakeholder – from internal staff to companies it works with, spreading goodness exponentially.

Standalone CSR projects aren’t enough anymore. Businesses need to go back to their roots and rediscover their social responsibility, turning them into assets for the people that work there. It’s about integrity with action; caring for the ecosystem in which you belong at the same time as making a profit. The two aren’t mutually exclusive either – responsible businesses are extracting ‘shared value’ from great CSR programs, boosting their bottom line at the same time as making their environments a better place.

Oak tree

This value can only be achieved by thinking differently about CSR and understanding that it’s not a twice yearly commitment. Instead it’s about a daily response, starting with the centre of an organisation – it’s people. By recognising staff beyond financial rewards and building a vibrant culture, companies create responsibility from the inside out. This is an area that’s a neglected yet vital part of CSR policy, so it’s time for us to make a change.