The evolution of corporate social responsibility – and therefore, capitalism — over these five decades reflects companies’ growing engagement with major social issues as integral to a successful business model:
I. The Zeitgeist
“If there was only some way to marshal the resources of the business community and the Establishment and apply them against the problems of Society in general …” (NEWSDAY interview, January 25, 1972).
The United Nations Global Compact, launched in 2000, is comprised of over 12,300 companies and some 4,000 affiliated organizations in 158 countries. For pursuit of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the mantra is: “People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, Partnerships”.
II. Management Studies, Higher Education
1970s: Pioneers –
Professor Raymond A. Bauer, Harvard University – ” The Social Audit: Getting on the Learning Curve” – 1973
Kirk O. Hanson, Executive Director, Markula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University – “Business Schools Make Room For the Ethical Conduct of Corporate Social Policy” – 1973
2020s: “Higher Education Gets It on Sustainability”
Principles For Responsible Management Education (PRIME) : With 850 signatories and partners around the world, PRIME engages business and management schools “to ensure they provide future leaders with skills needed to balance economic and sustainability goals”.
Net Impact is a global network of 400+ chapters in 40 countries on university campuses and at companies, governments and NGOs, preparing students for the global sustainable society and, upon graduation, for practicing in the CSR field.
III. Among the Key Issues
Chemicals in the environment (Rachel Carson impact from the late 1960s)
Vehicle Safety (Ralph Nader impact from the late 1960s)
Racial, gender equality/justice
Attacks on democracy and truth/polarization
IV. Organizing: Frameworks/Commitments
“Organizing for Corporate Social Responsibility” (American Management Association, 1973):”Call it a whole new era of business competition or simply a logical extension of many earlier socially-oriented business policies but call it by its right name: good business”.
Sustainable Development: A definition: ” … development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Stakeholder Capitalism: ” A system in which corporations are oriented to serve the interests of all their stakeholders. Among the key stakeholders are customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and communities … to create long-term value and not to maximize profits and enhance shareholder value as the cost of other stakeholder groups.” (Investopedia).
Benefit Corporations are committed to considering the company’s impact on society and the environment in order to create long-term sustainable value for all stakeholders.
“Purpose” as a corporate mission: “Purpose is an organization’s aspirational reason for being. It’s why an organization matters to people.” (Carol Cone, CEO, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE)
V. The bottom line(s)
“The role of business in society is definitely evolving, moving from shareholder primacy focus to a bigger role in society.”- Paul Polman, September, 2021 –
” Every human advancement or reversal can be understood through communication …” – Walter Annenberg, March, 1971
” I feel I’m practicing public relations in its best form. I’m trying to help clients conduct their business in a manner responsive to all the people.” – (NEWSDAY interview. January 15, 1972 – available upon request).
On October 1st, 1971, we established a public relations counseling firm specializing in corporate social responsibility and during the 1970s, authored: “Organizing for Corporate Social Responsibility” (The Presidents Association, Inc./American Management Association); “Business and Society: 1976 -2000, an AMA survey report”; and “Will The Corporation Survive?” (Reston Publishing Company, Inc. A Prentice Hall Company).
As fiftieth-year capstone: Our publication of a free book, especially for public relations educators and students:
“Global Public Relations in the Roiling Twenty-Twenties
“Confronting Disinformation, Serving a Sustainable Society”
The book is available as downloadable/printable PDF (47 pages) on the Business In Society home page.