EDITORIAL: CSR commitment needs to surface

Corporate social responsibility minister Douglas Alexander delivered UK companies and their PR advisers a shot across the bow this week. Speaking at the launch of the Government's second annual report on CSR, he warned companies against creating skin-deep CSR tactics designed for show rather than substantive change.

He also claimed, at the separate launch of an Echo Research survey into CSR, 'Giving Back 2', that giving public affairs, communication or PR responsibility for CSR limits its impact.

The received wisdom - underlined by Echo's research - is that ownership of CSR should lie squarely within the remit of the CEO and/or board directors if it is to be successful. Few would disagree with this need to mainstream CSR strategy, but what is becoming clear is that a question mark hangs over the potential contribution of PR.

Pressure is mounting on firms from all sides. According to Echo's research there has been a 92 per cent rise in media coverage of ethical investment, mirroring the rising number of ethical and social indices. And while the DTI's new report may be light on specific tactics, what it does make clear is that it will continue to drive CSR through regulatory and fiscal 'incentives' and the Company Law Review.

At the same time, there is an increasing polarisation between the US-style model of philanthropic CSR and the more profound need - encouraged by the Government - to conduct business responsibly. CSR, in the latter sense, represents an enormous opportunity for corporate comms - an opportunity that must not be simply handed over to dedicated CSR departments and management consultants.

The Government's own report places great emphasis on the need to create dialogue and trust, while recognising the limitations of audits and reports.

Echo's research also highlights the need to closely define CSR strategies and their communications to meet the needs of different stakeholder groups.

But the industry needs to act fast to prove its grasp of the issues at stake, and to demonstrate that it can make a crucial contribution to socially responsible and responsive policy that is far from skin deep.

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