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Corporate social responsibility – a PR invention?
Peter Frankental

The author Peter Frankental is based at Amnesty International, London, UK. Keywords Public relations, Governance, Social responsibility, Community relations Abstract Considers the paradoxes inherent in the phrase ``corporate social responsibility’’. These include procedures of corporate governance, the market’s view of organizations’ ethical stances, the lack of clear definition, acceptance or denial, the lack of formal mechanisms for taking responsibility and the placing and priority that most organizations give to social responsibility. The article concludes that until these paradoxes are properly addressed, corporate social responsibility can legitimately be branded an invention of PR. It can only have real substance if it embraces all the stakeholders of a company, if it is reinforced by changes in company law relating to governance, if it is rewarded by financial markets, if its definition relates to the goals of social and ecological sustainability, if its implementation is benchmarked and audited, if it is open to public scrutiny, if the compliance mechanisms are in place, and if it is embedded across the organization horizontally and vertically. Electronic access The research register for this journal is available at http://www.mcbup.com/research_registers The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at http://www.emerald-library.com/ft Corporate Communications: An International Journal Volume 6 . Number 1 . 2001 . pp. 18±23 # MCB University Press . ISSN 1356-3289

The first source of inspiration for approaching this question comes from Mahatma Gandhi’s response to the question ‘‘What do you think of Western civilisation’’ on his first visit to Britain. He replied, ‘‘It would be a good idea’’. The second source of inspiration comes from the response of the former Chinese Prime Minister, Chou En-Lai, to a question asking him about the impact of the French Revolution. He replied ‘‘It is too early to tell’’. Corporate social responsibility goes back almost as far as the French Revolution, at least to the corporate philanthropy of Joseph Rowntree who provided housing and education to the poor in the area of his chocolate factories. But it is too early to make a judgement about its wider impact. The third source of inspiration is an extraterrestrial one. Many years ago I saw a very short film produced on behalf of one of the aid agencies about a Martian visiting Planet Earth for the first time. It found itself in a pub talking to someone who tried to explain the concept of ‘‘hunger’’, a notion that it found difficult to understand. How can one-third of earth’s population be undernourished, with millions dying of starvation every year, when there is more than enough food to feed everyone on this planet? The Martian was clearly a highly intelligent alien, but failed to grasp this concept, which is, after all, the outcome of a complex set of relationships. Hunger cannot be explained merely in physiological terms with regard to a human being’s need to ingest nutrients. It is a political phenomenon relating to systems of power, a sociological phenomenon relating to social structures, and an economic phenomenon relating to laws of supply and demand and the behaviour of markets. The purpose of this film was to encourage people to think about hunger from a different mindset. Likewise, in considering the question ‘‘Is corporate social responsibility an invention of PR?’’, perhaps we need the antennae of a Martian in order to appreciate some of the paradoxes.

Paradoxes behind corporate social responsibility
Governance of companies The governance of companies reflects the interests of shareholders but not of other 18

Corporate social responsibility ± a PR invention? Peter Frankental

Corporate Communications: An International Journal Volume 6 . Number 1 . 2001 . 18±23

stakeholders. UK Company Law, for example, offers legal...
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