Corporate Social Responsibility - Meaning, Need and its Evolution

The practice of CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility as a paradigm for firms and businesses to follow has evolved from its early days as a slogan that was considered trendy by some firms following it to the present day realities of the 21st century where it is no longer just fashionable but a business requirement to be socially responsible.

This evolution has been necessitated both due to the myriad problems that we as a race face which has changed the environment under which firms operate as well as a realization among business leaders that profits as the sole reason or raison d’Ítre for existence can no longer hold good.

The reason why companies must look beyond profits is also due to the peculiar situation that humanity finds itself in the second decade of the 21st century. Given the political, economic, social and environmental crises that humans as a race are confronting, corporations have a role to play since they contribute the most to the economic well being of humanity and in turn influence the political and social trends.

Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR makes for eminent business sense as well when one considers the knock-on effect that social and environmental responsibility brings to the businesses. For instance, corporations exist in a symbiotic relationship with their environments (the term environment refers to all the components of the external environment and not to ecological environment alone) where their exchange with the larger environment determines to a large extent how well they do in their profit seeking endeavors.

The evolution of CSR as a concept dates back to the 1950’s when the first stirrings of social conscience among management practitioners and theorists were felt. The writings of Keith Davis starting in the 1950’s and continuing into the 1970’s speak of the need for businesses to engage in socially responsible behavior and to ensure that society as a whole does not lose out in the process of profit making behavior by businesses. CSR as a concept was starting to be taken seriously by the time the 1970’s dawned and through the tumultuous decade when big business and their minions were accused of several misdemeanors pertaining to rampant disregard for the environment and society as a whole.

One can trace the anxieties of activists and management theorists during this time as they feared that the rapacious behavior of businesses and corporations ought to be checked if a semblance of social responsibility was to be maintained. Of course, both sides started to stick to their positions and this resulted in the debate over CSR getting shriller during the 1980’s. I conclude the article with two quotes that illustrate the need to think beyond the ordinary and at the same time remind ourselves of the responsibility we have towards succeeding generations: The first one by Albert Einstein where he said that “problems cannot be solved from the same level of consciousness that created them” and the second one which says that “We have not inherited the Earth. We have merely borrowed it from our children.”


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