Corporate Social Responsibility in Turbulent Times and the Way Forward for Corporates

The Best of Times, and the Worst of Times, and CSR

Even in normal and placid times, CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility is a Fig Leap employed by corporates and the business leaders who head them to satiate and satisfy their conscience that they are indeed taking care of environmental and societal needs and at the same time, ensuring that their organizations are actively profit seeking in their approach.

Indeed, it is common knowledge that CSR is often a euphemism for Green Washing wherein corporates “spin” their societal outreach as making a difference whereas in reality, it is more of the same usual rampant business activities.

Despite governments plodding the corporates to set aside a certain amount of their profits for CSR, most such activities are usually a sideshow when contrasted against what is known as Business As Usual.

Thus, CSR in the best of times is another form of giving back when taking from the society is more than the former.

Of course, one cannot tar the entire corporate world with the same brush and there are and have been honorable exceptions where visionary business leaders such as JRD Tata and to some extent, NR Narayana Murthy, who put their money where their mouth was in both a literal and figurative sense.

CSR in Times of Turbulence and Upheaval

Turning to the present times when the world systems are in a state of upheaval and the old certainties are fading away and where business models are being disrupted by the hour, one wonders about how much CSR matters and to the extent to which it is genuinely pursued.

Indeed, how can one expect corporates to actualize “ideal” CSR practices when their very survival is at stake and where the incessant “noise” emanating from 24/7 Media and Social Media “drowns out” the voices of reason?

In other words, as we humans prioritize immediate safety and survival over other needs, even corporates and business leaders too being human and peopled by humans would be compelled to abandon pretenses of CSR and instead, focus on outwitting their competitors.

This is the reason why in recent years, there have been innumerable instances of environmental and societal needs being “sacrificed” at the “altar of survival”.

For instance, we read in the news almost daily of the various regulators worldwide tasked with ensuring environmental responsibility being deluged by a never ending barrage of complaints and cases of violations of such responsibilities by corporates.

Indeed, open the Newspaper in the morning and one can see the NGT or the National Green Tribunal in India and the EPA or the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States issuing rulings and injunctions on cases filed by the activist community.

Worse, ever since Trump was elected as President, the United States is going Full Throttle on rolling back environmental protections.

The Way Forward

So, in such turbulent times, what must corporates do and what is the way forward for them and the business leaders as far as CSR is concerned?

Before we answer that question, it is important to remember that Longer Term planning is as good as dead and hence, this thought must be taken into account and placed in context.

In other words, most business leaders these days have either abandoned their liberal orientations and instead, have embraced the prevailing ethos of the times which is that whoever is the most outrageous wins in the contest for attention.

What this has resulted in is an utter disregard for human rights, environment, and society and one wonders whether the innumerable instances of such violations are taking us to a situation that is entirely undesirable.

Business Leaders in Dark Times

Having said that, even in such Dark Times, there are business leaders who are still raising their voice and standing up for their responsibilities.

Anand Mahindra, NRN, and Bill Gates are some of such visionaries who are using their foundations and their public utterances to promote fair values and standing up for the rights of the common people.

On the other hand, there are many activists who feel that such actions are just eyewash and they insist that businesses need to do more to take on the challenges of the 21st Century.

Indeed, it is our view as well that despite the prevailing sense of Gloom, business leaders must defend liberal values before it is too late.

This means CSR must not be abandoned and instead, must be actively pursued.

Moreover, right thinking leaders have a responsibility to society by virtue of their fame and credibility to espouse views and opinions, which though at a variance with the prevailing ideology must still be spoken aloud.

In this case, the actions of Nike which roped in several NFL or National Football League players after they protested against Trump are an example of how corporates can take a stand.


Lastly, while we do not expect corporates to become all mushy and ideological, nonetheless, there are some Redlines which we as a species cannot cross and hence, it is the argument here that all of us and especially those in positions of power in the business world have a certain obligation to act.

After all, how can they expect to carry on with Business as Usual in Unusual Times when we are facing societal collapse and environmental destruction? This is the least that they can do for the future generations.

To conclude, as the saying goes, we have not inherited the Earth but have merely borrowed it from our children.

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Corporate Social Responsibility