Although the benefits of corporate social responsibility (CSR) have long been known by community-minded companies, recent years have seen a dramatic increase in businesses focusing on their social responsibility, with everyone from organic food companies to clothes retailers realizing the advantages of being welcomed and accepted in the communities they serve.
Organizations such as the Co-operative Group and cosmetics retailer The Body Shop have built their businesses on a foundation of CSR. Consequently, they have gained a strong reputation for “ethical” business practices that differentiate their brand. Other companies such as oil firms and tobacco companies that have traditionally been associated with issues such as pollution or ill health have engaged in overt ethical initiatives. However, unless these initiatives are sincerely reflected throughout the organization, they can be no more than a publicity stunt to divert attention from unpopular activities.
CSR can provide companies with a “license to operate.” By acting as good corporate citizens they can avoid interference from governments and ensure they remain welcome. It has become an essential element of risk management strategy—a well-respected brand cultivated over decades can be destroyed rapidly by a CSR scandal.
In addition to persuading society of your ethical credentials, CSR can build your reputation for integrity and best practice. It is also a powerful tool to ensure employees have a strong personal commitment to your organization, as well as providing a competitive edge when recruiting new workers in a competitive job market. In this way, you can attract the best workers to maintain your corporate ethics in the future. However, CSR is not a quick fix: firms should not do it for narrow commercial gain, they should do it because they believe in it, and in the end, we all benefit.