CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility refers to actions businesses are increasingly taking to signal the marketplace and their customers that they are aware of and dealing with challenges and inequities in their operating environment but only a blend of CSR and purpose is sustainable. Corporate Social Responsibility has meaning only in the context of the purpose and values of your business and any initiatives born of it, as it with everything else, has the best chance of success if it refers to the purpose. Corporate Social Responsibility as a strategy for managing brand reputation can create dangers if activities born of it become seeming inauthentic or insincere, dependent on your target audience. This again means that all CSR strategies should be a function of brand strategy principles as well.
CSR meaning relates the most to ways of working and transforming your organisation to intentionally tackle the known and existing issues in your value chains in a way that is truly impactful and visible, rather than on the philanthropical elements that many of the global organisations engage in quite showily.
Companies concerned with how to inculcate CSR initiatives into business activities are looking at implementing CSR as a business stream but as this article by V. Rangan et al highlights beautifully, ‘CSR should be a spillover’ of what businesses do and not a separate outcome. If CSR is related to the business purpose the risk that it’s not part of the process should be limited.
CSR and Justice
There are indications that businesses who are conscious of CSR considerations perform better than those who don’t but authenticity plays a big role. The perception that the organisation is not just paying lip service to an ideal but actually believes in it goes a long way too, and consumers make you pay for it if they ever believe they have been had. Justice is about fairness and this suggests that in any transformation program, leaders must consider what is fair and equitable for staff.
CSR and Employees
Like with all change, people-focused change brings the large scale gains. CSR starts and stops with employees and authenticity and intention are entrenched in people’s willingness and ability to live your organisational goals. Incidentally, just like your customers and clients, employees are increasingly consumers of your purpose, They demand it, they want something more. They also want a ‘Why?’
Providing this why is a big part of recruiting and retaining the right people because the way that the organisation sees and treats them is going to be as instrumental as promotion and remuneration, and of course will contribute to how these latter compensations will be viewed. Feeling that they like how the business operates and what they stand for, is also increasingly important.
Many companies that have recently fallen afoul of the trap of not paying staff sufficiently, pay and conditions while attempting to project positive images and it seems intuitive that all CSR initiatives should begin with the way that employees are treated and giving them a sense of belonging and identity in the company.
CSR and Brand
Working with purpose helps to create brand equity. A business with dedicated and committed employees who identify strongly with the brand is one with internal strength. A brand that its customers believe in, are loyal to and advocate freely can have a strong brand reputation, so fusing CSR considerations into how the business functions to deliver corporate social justice as well as CSR reinforces the brand.
Why is CSR Sophistry Without Justice?
Volkswagen touted its environmental credentials to sell cars and then deliberately circumvented the emissions control regulations by engineering a tool for that precise purpose. CSR is sophistry when your business is saying one thing is a value and valuing other things above it and when you can be perceived to have cheated or deliberately misled consumers and stakeholders. CSR is sophistry when employees are not paid a living wage and there is insufficient care for their wellbeing. This has been writ large in the past decade where supply chains now span the globe and some of the world’s most disadvantaged participate in the production of the most widely consumed goods, as Primark fell afoul of in 2008 and ASOS and Marks and Spencer in 2016, but it also applies just as acutely to your staff who are closer to home, as the Boohoo brand recently found out to their cost.
Businesses must focus on the means, methods and channels of production and ensure that producing their products or delivering the services, do not blight people’s lives or exploit young, disadvantaged or disenfranchised workers.
CSR is sophistry when it is not grounded in and does not deliver social justice, and business transformation is a crucial opportunity to blend corporate social responsibility and purpose with other business objectives to differentiate your business in the market place in ways that prioritise both your employees and your customers.