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Introduction to CSR

Author: Jim Riley  Last updated: Sunday 23 September, 2012

Corporate social responsibility has become a hot business topic in recent years and many well-known business people have expressed their support for it:

Niall Fitzgerald
Former CEO, Unilever

"Corporate social responsibility is a hard-edged business decision. Not because it is a nice thing to do or because people are forcing us to do it... because it is good for our business"

Dame Anita Roddick
Body Shop

“The business of business should not be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed”

Warren Buffett
Berkshire Hathaway

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

There are many alternative definitions of CSR.  Here are two:

  • An obligation, beyond that required by the law, for a business to pursue long term goals that are good for society
  • About how a company manages its business to produce an overall positive impact on society

So CSR involves:

  • Conducting business in an ethical way and in the interests of the wider community
  • Responding positively to emerging societal priorities and expectations
  • A willingness to act ahead of regulatory confrontation
  • Balancing shareholder interests against the interests of the wider community
  • Being a good citizen in the community

Is CSR the same as acting ethically?  The answer is yes and no!  There is clearly an overlap between CSR and business ethics:

  • Both are concerned with values, objectives and decisions based on something other than the pursuit of profit
  • Socially responsible firms must act ethically

The difference is that:

  • Ethics concern actions which can be assessed as right or wrong by reference to moral principles
  • CSR is about the organisation’s obligations to all stakeholders – and not just shareholders

There are four main parts to CSR:


Responsibility to earn profit for owners


Responsibility to comply with the law


Not acting just for profit, but doing what is right, just and fair

Voluntary and philanthropic

Promoting human welfare and goodwill
Being a good corporate citizen contributing to the community and quality of life

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