It is now exactly 7 days ago that a storm in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) world broke out over an article by Aneel Karnani published in the Wall Street Journal titled: ”The case against Corporate Social Responsibility”.

In the article he argued that the idea of companies having a duty to address social ills is not just flawed but that it also makes it more likely that we’ll ignore the real solutions to these problems.

All week last week the reactions to this article from around the CSR community flooded in. People tweeted on Twitter, shared on Facebook and emailed from one practitioner to  the other arguing for and against this point of view. Some reactions where in support of Mr Karnani but the majority where criticizing the simplicity of his argument and absolutely disagreed with his assessment that CSR in itself as a business principle was flawed.

This is a list of some of the reactions by authors and websites:

I do not want to go into detail what my view on this article is but if you have read my blog for a while you will know that I am all for CSR as a business concept and that in my view no organization now and in the future can allow itself to not take some aspects of CSR in account in order to make more money and take up its role as a responsible business in our society.

In any case. For me this strong reaction by the CSR community showed a lot more then the passion of some individuals.

My interpretation of this reaction from the CSR community to this article

Over the past few years a lot of people in the CSR community have been become increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress within global organizations to continue to implement a more material and meaningful CSR programs and practices within their business. At the same time more and more so called “business experts” started to make their voice heard and strongly criticized the whole purpose of CSR and its value for business. Common arguments include the lack of focus on the business case (ie. whether it makes the individual business more money embracing CSR) and the time is not right to lay further constraints on business growth (especially during an global economic downturn) by increasing its overhead costs and pulling vital budgets away to further strengthen CSR practices within a business.

The CSR Community is ready to face its critics: Last weeks reactions to the WSJ article showed that the CSR community is ready to face its critics and argue its way to increased recognition. It showed that there are many people out there that are willing to stand up and argue in favor of CSR, highlight the best practice and usefulness for the individual business and business as a whole across the globe.

Social Media and CSR is a winning combination: It has furthermore become very clear that social media as a tool is vital for the future of CSR. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are and will continue to be the three cornerstones of the next phase of CSR in terms of communication and collaboration. The more people join in to share their ideas, examples and experiences to make CSR the business norm, the more we will be able to convince business across the globe that CSR is not just a business fashion but that it is able to adapt and change to include the latest trends and best practice as well. Adapting in a way that CSR is providing a voice to all diverse stakeholders opinions and that organizations which are willing and able to listen to these voices will hugely benefit from this in the short in long term.

For me as a member of the CSR community, this last week was a very encouraging week.

What was your view on the discussion and reactions of people to the WSJ article? I would love to hear your viewpoint.

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  1. I agree on what the author is saying and wish to add that CSR as a discipline must accept, and address, the skeptism of non-believers through the development and implementation of ROI measurement (like preventive maintenance that documents short term spending for longer term savings, insurance paradigms that reward 'good' behavior behind the wheel and offer cost reductions, etc.)

    Too much of CSR has been caught up in politics, increasingly assocated with a political party or a single issue (climate change) rather than the idea that business is a powerful and natural force for changing our world and improving social and economic conditions – and that increasingly stakeholders' expectations are evolving due to globalization, social media (companies cannot off shore or hide their problems), the failure of major companies and even industries demonstrating what happens when a lack of values and ethics permiate a culture, etc.

  2. I agree with your comments, particularly about the importance of social media to the practice of and advocacy for corporate responsibility.

    I also think that we CSR practitioners must continue to do a better job of explaining what CSR really is – not this myopic interpretation of CSR as philanthropy only – so folks who try to make this recurring argument about how CSR is "bad for business" won't be able to get any traction.

  3. Corporations are private tyrannies designed to seize all profits before all social and environmental considerations.

    There is no such thing as a socially responsible corporation which is following the mission of its corporate charter.

  4. I have to disagree. Yes they need to earn money but the real value of corporations is so much more. And history has shown that they can be so much more then money making machines. CSR as a business process and effectively a new way of conducting business is helping everyone involved to make more of what we have at the moment.

  5. Totally agree Celesa. I also think we are at a point where we do not have to explain what CSR is in my view. So many more people now know about this. What I mostly do is to call it responsible business / CSR. This has an even better understanding by the general public.

  6. I don't think that what Karnani and his 'opponents' believe are much different…indeed I am sure that they would agree on almost all points raised. Many CSR professionals get defensive when their acronyms/buzz words get challenged – rather than digging deeper and looking at the attributes of the discussion. (To be clear, I'm a CSR professional)

    Successful and responsible companies will be those which focus on understanding and meeting the needs of their most important stakeholders – whoever they are, whatever they are (some are bound to be linked to reducing ESG risk). If they can do this they will end up on top.

    Linked to this is that if they do things that seem completely misaligned from their business objectives (so called "random acts of kindness" – e.g. auto company giving bicycles to children, or beverage company trying to cure malaria) they may take a nasty hit. Focus on business objectives, and performance measurement, and you'll end up on top.

    One big challenge though is I don't think Karnani can speak on behalf of shareholders and corporate investors in knowing what they want. Most don't know what they want outside of more money, and leave investment decisions to their advisors (who are largely uninformed or sceptical of ESG risk and still use P/E ratio) – this is a major issue.

    We need to focus on how to work collaboratively with folks like Karnani, to focus on areas of common interest, so that many issues related to CSR can be addressed and not dismissed by the (grumpy old white man) mainstream. I may not be addressed in the way we would all like, but then again, we may not always know the best way to best climb Mt. Sustainability.

  7. I fully endorse this response Wesley ( In this case the strong voice of the csr community wasn't well used.

    If such entrenchment continues, along with this fixation on the ley lines of responsibility, it will not only be counterproductive but ultimately will jeopardise the real, critical outcome: Sustainable Enterprise.

  8. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -A. Einstein

  9. Interesting viewpoint. But lets look at this from a practical and constructive point of view. What would you change if you are so quick to criticise CSR?

  10. Excellent. Now we are making some progress. CSR has some righteous motives, but now get ready for a face full of substance:The 5 easy steps to being green, creating local jobs, and mitigating the worst effects of climate change and peak oil.1) Stop population groWtHH & SprawL!!!2) VeganLife!! / FoodForest / VirginForest!3) R.R.Recycle! 4) Wind! / GeoThermal Exchange!! / Solar 5) Electric &OpenSource: Trains!! / Cars / Media! <a href="<br /> <a href="<br /> <a href="http://www.storyofstuff.com<br /> <a href="” target=”_blank”>

  11. I do disagree with some of the beginning statements of the articles. Some executives believe that voluntary acts in the public are needed for the good of the community. Some who call these actions irrelevant, may do well in their buisness strictly because that is all they care about but if one is to care about the public interest the reputation will do just as well as profiting

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