Does CSR necessarily imply ethical motivations?

Does CSR necessarily imply ethical motivations?

From my perspective CSR does not necessarily directly imply ethical motivations. Strictly speaking, it can simply help to decrease costs (e.g. energy efficiency) and enhance competitiveness (e.g. expanding to new markets). However, as soon as a corporation interacts with stakeholders, ethical claims are perceived, whether intended or not, and thus CSR becomes irrevocably involved, and stakeholders inevitably begin to judge CSR endeavours as being right or wrong in terms of morality and ethics.

Against this background, ethics play an important role for profit-making organizations, since stakeholders are very sceptical if profit-making and ethics are presented together. Many stakeholders, especially in western cultures, perceive profit-making as an expression of self-interest which is made at the expense of others. Therefore, “attempts of corporations to engage in CSR are often seen as buying an indulgence which is especially true when the CSR engagement is not related to the core business”.
However, since profit-making belongs to the logic of existence of for-profit organizations, altruism is simply not affordable. It seems to be impossible to escape the self-interested perspective; financial profits are sought at any cost. On the other hand, it is not acceptable for profits to be made while negatively affecting third parties; this will also ultimately be detrimental to the corporation itself, if only when stakeholders eventually revoke the company’s license to operate.

As a result, corporations should strive for win-win situations; in other words, according to the business ethic Suchanek’s golden rule, corporations should “invest in the conditions which foster social cooperation for mutual benefit”. With regards to CSR, this means that corporations should aspire to mutual benefits of both the society and the corporation.

Finally, it is the stakeholders who judge the extent to which a corporation succeeds in converging social responsibility and financial profits, which in turn will directly reflect on the CSR engagement and the corporation’s reputation. Consumers increasingly accept a “‘win–win’ perspective” as they come to know more about the CSR motivations of corporations, to the point where they “believe that CSR initiatives can and should serve both the needs of society and the bottom lines of business”.


Excerpt from my contribution to the 1st CSR Communication Conference 2011 in Amsterdam
Title of the article: Corporate social responsibility communication: towards a phase model of strategic concept development, (CSR Communication Conference 2011, Conference Proceeding, Eds: W. Elving/ F. Schultz/A.-E. Nielsen/Ch. Thomson/K. Podnar)

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