Right and Wrong Notes of CSR

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The true nature of business

Throughout its history, the humanity has been playing different games, one of the most favorite being business, a game of making money. Our material culture resulted from our economic activities, probably except some sacred buildings and artefacts created as self-giving service and worship. Thus, whatever euphemisms are used by management theorizers to draw a veil over the real aim of entrepreneurship – maximizing the cost of capital and the market share, etc. etc. – what it’s all about is beneficiaries’ accomplishing their private ends and achieving their prosperity. That is, it’s all about quite selfish motives. In various cultures people treat entrepreneurs’ wish to live well and to fulfill their potential differently. Protestant ethic actually puts individual business success on the same footing as serving God while communist ethic with its class hatred puts it on the same footing as committing a crime. The first line stimulates businesspeople to share what they have earned happily and freely, the second makes them hide deeper or run away farther.

The pragmatic basis of CSR

Something we call corporate social responsibility lies somewhere between the two extremes. In its most primitive form, it is a kind of payment from a company (its owners) to the society for the right to make money. As a rule, it is arranged for if this or that culture takes an unfavorable attitude to a business or if this very business makes money in a not very honest way. Practically speaking, by spending money on public ends businesspeople pay for their “trade place”, or neutralize their reputational risks, or secure themselves safer/more comfortable environment. (It is in such cases that pseudo-CSR is relentlessly spun like “buy 2 computers – spend the cost of 10 to tell about it”, “let’s invite people to eat and drink for 100 thousand, they will donate 50 thousand and we will give this 50 thousand to those in need on our behalf.”)

In its highest manifestation, CSR is beneficiaries’ real worldview attitude implemented via social projects that are of definite use for the population of a particular territory. Yet, the nature of business does not change even in this case. Even social entrepreneurs working wholeheartedly for the future of the humanity by resolving its current most critical issues are not humming-birds and do not feed on nectar. Financials are still among performance indicators of these companies.

The culture of serving

The essence of the true social responsibility, not the false one, has not changed either. It is difficult to name a company socially responsible if it, say, builds playgrounds all over the country but sells food dangerous to people’s health. Or, say, a cellular service provider that spends staggering sums on large-scale art projects and does not care in the least for their customers. Or a business that takes advantage of tax sheltering. Or the one that employs a speedup system of its personnel exploitation. Because for a business, being a decent corporate citizen means undertaking a high-quality, fair and responsible economic activity first and foremost. That is, taking public interest into consideration when choosing investment patterns and formats, refraining from natural resources depredation and human dignity violation. And carrying out social projects whose benefit is seen by the general public only in addition to the mentioned above. As fiddling while Rome is burning is not about social responsibility, it’s about cynical business populism.

So far, it has not become the most popular logic of CSR as the social and economic situation in the country does not inspire to follow it. However, it is beginning to spread. And the greater amount of right, not wrong, notes there is in CSR, the more companies devoutly serve the society instead of hypocritically simulating the service, the closer we will be to the fair world. No matter how idealistic this may sound.


Tags: Business               Corporate culture           Reputational risks