Defining CSR

An FT journalist told us recently that when a CSR story is discussed on the news desk, the suffix ‘bollocks’ is generally added. So it was good to see the leader in yesterday’s FT (March 16) calling for shareholder value maximisation to be re-evaluated which stated that if companies strive to make good products and generate trust with customers, suppliers and creditors, profits will follow for the well-run business.”

This welcome leader contrasts strongly with the line taken by a number of FT writers, not least Stefan Stern who recently wrote about “The Hot Air of CSR (Feb 3)”. In this article he seems to suggest that businesses that try to generate trust are do-gooding wimps.

The problem is really about definitions. I don’t think that Stern would really have any problems about fair treatment of employees, fair and honest advertising to customers, paying suppliers on time and all the other issues we assess in the GoodCorporation Business Ethics Standard. He might even concede that they are part of a successful business strategy. What really seems to irritate him is companies that miss out these basic elements of good practice and then try to greenwash everyone with some ‘babies, dolphins and forests’ type initiative. Whereas some would define this as CSR, it has more to do with PR than Corporate Responsibility. Until CSR gets to the heart of responsible business management it will always run the risk of attracting the suffix ‘bollocks’.