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CSR - An ethical foundation or just an expense?

Skrivet av Ib Sønnerstad Tuesday, 27 March 2012.

CSR - An ethical foundation or just an expense?

15 years ago, I attended a course in leadership, aimed to people who had been working for several years after studying at the School of Economics.

The course included a module which was held in London on a business trip to the supermarket chain Sainsbury's. In connection with the company's business presentation, I heard about the concept of certification. In about 5-8 years, the company predicted that it would be quite possible to say where in the world the tree had grown used for the production of that particular pencil he was holding. We were somewhat confused over the need for this but the purchasing manager convincingly said that the consumers want to know.

He was right. Today, it is quite normal with FSC certification when we purchase garden furniture in wood. The Forest Stewardship Council is an independent, non-profit organization that is not controlled by authorities. An FSC label should guarantee that the timber comes from suppliers who have a responsible attitude towards the local forestry.

Later, a broader concept called CSR - Corporate Social Responsibility emerged (where the FSC label only represents a component in the manufacture of wood products). The concept of CSR was coined as early as the 60th century in the United States but has now become an essential concept in the debate concerning the balance between companies' core business (mission) and increasing demands for a more expanded social responsibility. CSR is unfortunately burdened by some concept issues where English word “social” may have various meanings in this context. Furthermore, there is no consensus on what CSR by definition contains ie. how far such liability should or even can reach. Since such a commitment entails costs and business consequences, many companies are doubtful, and in some cases even reluctant to the whole concept.

In an article by Dagens Industri (03/21/2012) it appears that many big corporations actually use CSR to seem more ethical and shows sustainable values ​​that they believe the market expects of them. Financial analysts and investors in that same article believe that the need for CSR is clearly overvalued and that the companies must be careful not to lose focus as they become more socially engaged. According to proponents of CSR, companies should now take on a greater economic, environmental and social responsibility - a responsibility which thus extends far beyond the dominant traditional approach - that the company always should maximize profits for their owners.

There are two camps that seem to be stuck. Still, these two views are not necessarily completely different. The market always defines the demand and what is therefore worthwhile to offer. When we (finally) want biodegradable plastic bags, they are suddenly available for purchase. Who would buy tools if you know that the metal comes from mines with child labor? The point is that we want to know things that some people do not want to tell us ...

CSR is also about an increased level of consciousness in consumers. We get an even greater knowledge, will and power to influence the development so that the companies themselves find it meaningful and worthwhile to take on a broader social responsibility. In addition to the real mission, the wider economic, environmental and social responsibility forms the basis for tomorrow's successful companies. They will then have difficulty to understand why CSR only was considered to be a burdensome expense instead of a business base with several options for profiling.

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