CSR is ‘not one-size-fits-all’

Corporate social responsibility is not a one-size-fits-all policy - and firms have to assess how vulnerable they are to customer criticism before deciding which measures to adopt.

That was the recommendation of Professor Craig Smith, chair of ethics and social responsibility at international business school INSEAD.

Speaking at the opening of a one-day conference on CSR, hosted by the University of East London, he said larger companies that sell to the general public tend to be more vulnerable if they are not being socially responsible.

Professor Smith said: “There are a lot of organisations putting stuff out there that says this [CSR] is a glorious win-win.

“The point I would want to make is that the business case that these organisations are talking about doesn’t apply equally to all firms.

“If you are an organisation that sells to other organisations, then clearly it’s less important to you what consumers think about your organisation.”

But those that do rely on the custom of the general public to make a profit have to think hard about their impact on society and the environment, he said, pointing to protests by green campaigners against companies such as oil giant Exxon Mobil.

The Millennium Survey, carried out shortly before the turn of the Millennium, found 23% of people said they had “punished” a company that they thought was not socially responsible by boycotting its products.

Dr Richard Spencer, a sustainable business analyst from the Institute for Chartered Accountants, said the last two years had marked a turning point in CSR.

He said: “I thin the big, big moment in CSR was the Stern Review. It suddenly made the business case for dealing with climate change.”

Gianluca Forlani, senior project manager at London Remade, said climate change was not the only environmental issue that was becoming a focus for corporate social responsibility programmes.

“Increasing public awareness is helping waste become a big CSR issue,” he told delegates.

Kate Martin

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