Corporate Responsibility: The American Experience

Archie B. Carroll (Author), Kenneth J. Lipartito (Author), James E. Post (Author), Patricia H. Werhane (Author), Kenneth E. Goodpaster (Editor). Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp 543, paperback $49

We know that businesses can fail and hurt people (Enron) and harm nature (BP). But it is equally true that we all depend on businesses and that they can do good. The woman in Proverbs 31 was an astute businesswoman whose ventures served people and her community.

The Quakers practiced a kind of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), long before academics developed the term. Their motto was ‘spiritual & solvent’. They served God and people in and through business.

Even Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations and sometimes called the father of capitalism, said that business should operate within a framework of fair play, justice and rule of law.

Five highly qualified American academics have produced a landmark publication: Corporate Responsibility: The American Experience. It is a thorough and helpful study of the development of business behavior in the USA from the mid-18th century till today.

There has been a gradual shift from focus on shareholders and profit to the inclusion of growing sets of stakeholders, like customers, staff, suppliers, community, and environment. Corporate responsibility is about businesses having a positive impact economically, socially and environmentally – the triple bottom line. This is beyond corporate philanthropy, merely giving part of profit to charitable causes.

The book refers to a 2008 study which showed that although there are 37 definitions of CSR, there is a strong congruence in the understanding and praxis of corporate responsibility. The concept is still evolving through the interaction of theory and application, and its global impact is growing.

As Christians we welcome these CSR conversations and developments, and we should join in various ways, including drawing from the enormous well of intellectual capital regarding CSR found in this book.

But we must also include God as a stakeholder and thus we need to ask: How can we shape business for God and for the common good? This is CSR+. We want to start and grow businesses to serve people, align with God’s purposes, be good stewards of the planet and make a profit.

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Mats Tunehag (www.MatsTunehag.com), is the Lausanne Senior Associate on Business as Mission, and Chair of the Global Think Tank on Business as Mission, www.BAMthinktank.org