Towards a More Business-Oriented Definition of Corporate Social Responsibility: Discussing the Core Controversies of a Well-Established Concept by ProQuest


More Info
									J. Service Science & Management, 2009, 2: 312-321
doi:10.4236/jssm.2009.24037 Published Online December 2009 (

Towards a More Business-Oriented Definition of
Corporate Social Responsibility: Discussing the
Core Controversies of a Well-Established Concept
Matthias S. Fifka
School of Business and Economics, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuernberg, Erlangen, Germany.

Received September 6, 2009; revised October 19, 2009; accepted November 23, 2009.

The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been controversially discussed for over 50 years. Conse-
quently, a wide variety of definitions and understandings of CSR have been developed throughout the decades. That has
made it increasingly hard, or not to say impossible, to agree on a common perception of CSR. Concerning the various
notions of CSR, four core controversies can be identified which revolve around certain elements of CSR: First of all,
there is the underlying question if CSR is the business of business or if it is none of its business as Friedman has fa-
mously argued. Second, should CSR contain legal obligations or is it a purely voluntary concept and, thus, ethical in
nature? Strongly connected to that is the third controversy on whether CSR should be self-serving or if it has to be
purely altruistic. Finally, there is widespread disagreement on the scope of CSR. Does it have a local, commu-
nity-oriented focus or should it address concerns of a wider geographical scope? These controversies are analyzed and
discussed here with the aim of developing a definition of CSR that does not remain confined to the academic world.

Keywords: Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Citizenship, Corporate Social Performance, Corporate Com-
          munity Involvement

1. Introduction                                                                 Bowen1, “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) has be-
                                                                                come a highly popular term among scholars and practi-
While the idea that businesses should voluntarily con-                          tioners alike. However, with the increasing usage and an
tribute to the well-being of the communities where they                         ever growing number of publications, the meaning of the
operate dates back far into the 19th century, the scientific                    term has become increasingly blurred. In this context, it
discussion of that phenomenon began in the 1930s. E.M.
                                                                                deserves mentioning that already in 1975 the Handbook
Dodd [1] and Chester Barnard [2] asked whether the ex-
                                                                                of Corporate Social Responsibility remarked: “It seems
ecutives of large corporations had an obligation to soci-
                                                                                that everyone has his/her own definitions for terms like
ety extending beyond daily business. Theodore Kreps [3]
even developed a framework for measuring the social                             [...] Corporate Social Responsibility, Public Affairs,
involvement of businesses in his widely regarded book                           Community Relations, Urban Affairs and Corporate Re-
Measurement of the Social Performance of Business. The                          sponsibility” [6]. The intensifying discussion among aca-
key term “social responsibility” was finally introduced in                      demics, especially in the 1990s, has not lead to any more
1953 by Howard Bowen in his path-breaking work So-                              clarity of the meaning of “corporate social responsibil-
cial Responsibilities of the Businessman [4]. Aside from                        ity.” Consequently, the World Business Council for Sus-
being the first to use the term, Bowen extensively elabo-                       tainable Development – a CEO-led, global association of
rated on the subject and thus can be called “the father of                      more than 200 multinational companies – observed that
corporate social responsibility” [5].                                           “no universally acceptable definition of CSR exists” and
   Today, more than 50 years after its introduction by                          that the “lack of an all-embracing definition” [7] will
                                                                                most likely persist.
    It must be noted that Bowen only used the term “social responsibility,”         This lack of consistency can mainly be attributed to
     but exclusively applied it to corporations. Therefore, the introduction
     of the concept of “corporate social responsibility” can be attributed to
                                                                                three reasons. First, scholars from very different fields –
     him.                                                                       business, economics, law, sociology, philosophy, and

Copyright © 2009 SciRes                                                                                                              JSSM
                       Towards a More Business-Oriented Definition of Corporate Social Responsibility:                   313
                              Discussing the Core Controversies of a Well-Established Concept

even theology – have become increasingly interested in           responsibilities to society which extend beyond these
CSR. Inevitably, a coherent scientific discussion has be-        obligations” [8]. While McGuire is more precise than
come more difficult since different understandings, aims       
To top