ECONOMY

Lecturer defends corporate social responsibility

Criticism of the notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) was convincingly answered by Chris Marsden, chairman of the Business Group of Amnesty International in the UK and of the Business and Human Rights Resource Center at his lecture on May 25 at the Athens University of Economics and Business’s MBA International Program. CSR has recently been at the receiving end of negative comments from two different sources with international appeal. Marsden painted the real picture of CSR, «a notion that large corporations have now included in their policies, and their CEOs recognize as their personal responsibility to society and the environment,» he said. But as CSR lacks any specific definition, due to the broad range of business activities involved, Marsden said it would predictably be relegated either to «corporate charity» or even to a bubble. A source of criticism that Marsden replied to was The Economist magazine which had argued in January that CSR is a waste of resources, distracting companies from their main mission: to produce profitable goods and services. The other source was the book by Joel Bakan and the movie titled «The Corporation,» which argue that CSR is a cloud of smoke with which companies hide their bad practices and resist government regulations. «Both criticisms are misleading, stressing the governments’ role to regulate how enterprises behave. They also downgrade the positive contribution that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can have in forming the social environment in which companies operate while taking advantage of the confusion around CSR’s meaning,» Marsden said. Crucially, he distinguished CSR from corporate responsibility, explaining that «unlike CSR, which often describes a broad range of various activities, corporate responsibility is how companies take into account their impact on society.» With examples from companies, including those in the FTSE-4GOOD index, Marsden showed that firms that grasp and practice CSR contribute to public welfare through their way of operating. This is in addition to revenues and value for their products or services. He also recommended that companies invest in better information systems, as they entail greater transparency for CSR to be more effective.