Debate 21 - CSR - driver or barrier?

Thursday, May 6th, 2004 | Debates

Corporate Social Responsibility — menace or means to a sustainable (construction) industry?

CSR is the ‘hot topic’ just now. Each week, mention of CSR is made in newspapers, with headlines such as “No hiding place for the irresponsible business”, “Social Concerns Edge into the Mainstream”, “Good Governance will benefit the business community”, “Increasing pressures [for companies] to act responsibly” and so on.

CSR (Photo courtesy: Arup)

CSR (Photo courtesy: Arup)

Indicators of CSR have been produced by the organisation Business in the Community (BitC). The FTSE4Good indices identify companies that meet set standards. The Dow Jones Sustainability Indices includes companies that are judged to be the most sustainable in their sector. Additionally, there is the Global Reporting Initiative.

The DTI will shortly produce guidelines that will require companies to disclose in their annual report any social, environmental or other issues that materially affect their business. The ABI (Association of British Insurers) has just published a report Risks, Returns and Responsibility which attempts to detail how effective management of corporate responsibility could lead to improved business performance.

And yet, some influential voices are cautioning against CSR. For example, it has been said that, when companies sign up publicly to CSR, they ‘open a can of worms’. Every business decision, every investment or closure, can immediately be subjected to the CSR test. Alternatively that there is no substantial or ideological critique of capitalism contained in CSR — merely a vague notion that business ought to behave better.

It has also been said that CSR greatly oversimplifies issues, problems and choices. And that business is about maximising returns for shareholders, not ‘trying to put right the ills of society in which it operates’.

The debate was chaired by Paul Morrell, Partner Davis Langdon; Senior Vice President, British Council for Offices; Chairman, Sustainability Group - British Property Federation; CABE Commissioner.

Short position statements were made by:

Martin Batt, HBOS Environment @ Sustainability Manager

Bryan Cress, CSR Policy Advisor, CBI

John Hale, Manager of Investment Affairs, Association of British Insurers

Professor David Henderson, Visiting Professor Westminster Business School, former head of Economics and Statistics - OECD

Notes from the debate

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