In 1958, Theodore Levitt presented a confrontational discourse against Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), alleging that the business of business is “making money, not sweet music” and that CSR breaks the rules of capitalism and free enterprise. Today, CSR must be brawled not because it undermined free enterprise, but precisely because it largely contributed to its reign with unprecedented empowering mechanisms. While CSR was initially intended to regulate the wild and uncontrolled growth of private corporation, it has (un)predictably nurtured the very foundations of unstoppable-growth-led capitalism. Here are a few arguments why we believe this is dangerous:
- CSR is short-sighted: As opposed to long-term strategies, CSR actions and programs are often limited in scope and depth. Because they are mostly driven by short-term visibility and results, their impacts on society or the environment remain, at best, superficial: Shallow impact.
- CSR as an instrument for branding and public relations: When CSR is used as a marketing and sales argument, which has been the case for several large corporations, the underlying operational strategies are developed towards satisfying the central goal of profit maximization. Thus, CSR is exploited as a communication and branding tool, often found under the auspices of the Chief Communication Manager, the goal of which being to simply reinvent the message that serves to sell the same old goods and services made with the same old value chains and production systems: No strategic revamping.
- CSR as a competitive advantage: One of the most widely advanced arguments for CSR is creating a distinctive competitive advantage. However, unless this advantage is sustained in time, it will add little value, if any, to the firm. For a specific resource to be a source of sustained competitive advantage, it ought to be valuable, rare, inimitable and non-substitutable. CSR programs hastily engendered in corporate meetings are ordained to fail satisfying the four criteria simultaneously, thus questioning the real value to the firm –should that be the goal– of CSR: Not a source of competitive advantage.
CSR looked once attractive to various managerial levels of the firm. Today, the concept is gradually wearing off, calling into question our basic understanding of well-being within and outside business organizations. Some enthusiasts have urged towards thinking in terms of a corporate version of the more inclusive paradigm of sustainable development: Corporate Sustainability. Increasingly more business models and frameworks are being developed in this arena, disrupting everyday the way we think about and approach the social responsibility of business. It is probably hard time we moved beyond CSR.