EDITORIAL: Box-ticking claim misses the point

Allegations of box-ticking and of actions being driven by compliance concerns threaten to do lasting damage to the cause of corporate social responsibility. It is in this context that one should view this week's attack on the marks-and-indicators culture from think-tank Tomorrow's Company. Its report, Redefining CSR, could not have been more blunt in condemning 'a passive box-ticking mentality'.

Despite the neat, if obvious, line Tomorrow's Company draws between 'compliance CSR' and 'conviction CSR', lobbying group Business in the Community is to be praised for its efforts in attempting to clarify best practice and benchmark high achievers. It is using its annual conference this week to outline close to 50 indicators that companies can use to measure success in this area.

The problem with BITC has never been that it is misguided in its insistence that companies take social and environmental impact into account as well as profitability. The problem is that it wasn't clear how much impact it could have on a sceptical business community, and therefore how effective it would prove in achieving its goals.

With the publication of the indicators, such doubts can be laid to rest.

Indeed, although it sometimes seems as though the CSR lobby has talked a big game without achieving much, the overall story of the last three critical years is one of delivery on promises.

The key distinction drawn by Tomorrow's Company therefore - that external pressures rather than business sense are motivating a climate of CSR compliance - is a bogus one. As companies now recognise, if your potential customers refuse to buy your products because of ethical qualms, you have a business problem manifesting itself as external pressure. Likely solutions will address the core of the business problem, while satisfying the external critics.

Of course, if CSR is just box-ticking, it is unlikely to capture corporate hearts and minds. But if the ticked boxes betoken a serious commitment to responsible behaviour, progress is being made.

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