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What are the implications for a firm that does not conduct CSR?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is often mistaken for a 21st century buzz phrase when in fact it has been part of the business lexicon for decades. While some argue that the concept dates back to the Industrial Revolution, the first substantive work was written by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book The Practice of Management. Despite the passage of time, there is still no universal definition of CSR. Corporate Social Responsibility, what it is and how it is implemented, is different depending upon the country a business operates within, the regulatory system they are answerable to and even the industry within which they work. These complications aside, it is necessary to fix on well-rounded definition of CSR in order to critically discuss the concept in this paper. The definition offered by the International Organization for Standardization will be used, as it is general in nature and applicable to most businesses, regardless their country of operation:

“Social responsibility is the responsibility of an organisation for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that:

  • contributes to sustainable development, including the health and the welfare of society
  • takes into account the expectations of stakeholders
  • is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and
  • Is integrated throughout the organization and practised in its relationships.” (International Organization for Standardization, 2010)

They one weakness in this definition is the proposition that CSR is about compliance with applicable law. In Dahlsrud’s (2008) analysis of 37 CSR definitions, he identified five critical dimensions. The first dimension is the environment and its consideration in business operations and the second is the social dimension which covers businesses taking into account their impact on society. Both of these dimensions are central to our working definition. The third dimension identified is the economic dimension which looks for a commitment to integrating CSR into business operations is also present as is the fourth dimension which related to how businesses should manage all stakeholder groups in a socially responsible manner (Dahlsrud, 2008). The final dimension, voluntariness, is what is missing from the ISO definition. Dahlsrud (2008) defines voluntariness as businesses making decisions and undertaking activities that are above what is legally required whereas the ISO definition (International Organization for Standardization, 2010) states that mere compliance is acceptable. It is argued that merely complying with the law is better described as good corporate governance and not of itself an act of corporate social responsibility (Ashley and Crowther, 2012; Bênabou and Tirole, 2010).