Corporate, social, responsibility. What do these three words mean?

I raised this question a few weeks ago at a dinner with a handful of industry leaders.

CSR should be more outward looking, argues Nick Faith
The general consensus was that CSR is predominantly used as an internal comms tool; a good way to bring staff together to raise funds for charity or an opportunity to demonstrate a company’s green credentials to shareholders. 

What was clear from the conversation was that all of the people around the table felt that CSR was a necessity for any major company.

While I think business leaders who decide to reduce their company’s carbon footprint or raise funds for the local community should be congratulated, I am of the belief that CSR needs to better reflect the post-recession world. 

Instead of dusting down the same playbook that companies have used for 20 years, a modern day approach should reflect the local and national issues of the day. 

CSR should be linked directly to an organisation’s engagement with policymakers and the media.

As the UK economy slowly begins to grow, the challenge for politicians of all parties is to show that everyone in society benefits from the recovery.

As the nature of the labour market changes, due to globalisation and the rise in technological innovation, people need to feel they have a stake in modern day Britain. 

Jobs that were previously the mainstay of a community may no longer be relevant to the UK economy.
The pace of change raises tricky questions for policymakers. 

How to incentivise private business to invest in run-down coastal towns or de-industrialised northern communities where some historic industries have disappeared over time? 

How to provide apprenticeship schemes or on-the-job training for young unemployed men and women? 

How to encourage business to take on more staff and pay them higher wages? 

What could be done to resurrect a boarded-up high street or provide more good quality affordable housing?

These challenges cannot be met by politicians alone. 

This is where I see modern day CSR: working constructively and intelligently with politicians – locally, nationally and internationally – to directly improve people’s lives.

Take the Chancellor’s focus on promoting growth in our great northern cities. 

The Treasury is working with local leaders in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield to improve infrastructure connections to shorten journey times between cities. 

Better road and rail infrastructure along with affordable housing will encourage graduates to remain up north rather than come to London. 

A business that is able to demonstrate how improvements to infrastructure could enable it to open up more offices, take on more staff and boost the local or regional economy would be playing a constructive role in a debate that affects the future of millions of people.

Businesses sometimes fall into the trap of producing a list of ‘asks’ when engaging with policymakers. 

Another way of looking at CSR is to come up with fresh, practical ideas on some of the most pressing policy challenges. 

There are numerous reputational and business advantages of being seen as a thought leader.

‘Social capitalism’, ‘responsible capitalism’, ‘social corporate responsibility’ - call it what you want. 

It is time for a modern day approach to CSR in which it is seen as an external as well as an internal comms tool.

Nick Faith is co-founder of the Westminster Policy Institute

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