The Business Case for Corporate Social Responsibility: a Review of Concepts, Research and Practice

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International Journal of Management Reviews (2010) DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2009.00275.x

The Business Case for Corporate Social Responsibility: A Review of Concepts, Research and Practice ijmr_275 85..106

Archie B. Carroll and Kareem M. Shabana1
Director, Nonprofit Management & Community Service Program & Robert W. Scherer Professor Emeritus, Department of Management, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA, and 1 Assistant Professor of Management, School of Business, Indiana University Kokomo, 2300 S. Washington Street, Kokomo, IN 46904, USA Email: acarroll@uga.edu; kshabana@iuk.edu In this review, the primary subject is the ‘business case’ for corporate social responsibility (CSR). The business case refers to the underlying arguments or rationales supporting or documenting why the business community should accept and advance the CSR ‘cause’. The business case is concerned with the primary question: What do the business community and organizations get out of CSR? That is, how do they benefit tangibly from engaging in CSR policies, activities and practices? The business case refers to the bottom-line financial and other reasons for businesses pursuing CSR strategies and policies. In developing this business case, the paper first provides some historical background and perspective. In addition, it provides a brief discussion of the evolving understandings of CSR and some of the long-established, traditional arguments that have been made both for and against the idea of business assuming any responsibility to society beyond profit-seeking and maximizing its own financial wellbeing. Finally, the paper addresses the business case in more detail. The goal is to describe and summarize what the business case means and to review some of the concepts, research and practice that have come to characterize this developing idea.

Over the decades, the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has continued to grow in importance and significance. It has been the subject of considerable debate, commentary, theory building and research. In spite of the ongoing deliberations as to what it means and what it embraces, it has developed and evolved in both academic as well as practitioner communities worldwide. The idea that business enterprises have some responsibilities to society beyond that of making profits for the shareholders has been around for centuries. For all practical purposes, however, it is largely a postWorld War II phenomenon and actually did not surge in importance until the 1960s and beyond. Therefore, it is largely a product of the past half century.

Today, one cannot pick up a newspaper, magazine or journal without encountering some discussion of the issue, some recent or innovative example of what business is thinking or doing about CSR, or some new conference that is being held. Specific journals, news magazines, books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, websites, discussion lists and blogs treat the concept on a regular basis. The business community has formed its own organizations specializing in the topic. Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), for example, is a business association founded in 1992 to provide corporations with expertise on the subject and an opportunity for business executives to advance the field and learn from one another. There has been an explosion of interest in CSR in the European Union and around the world. The London-based

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86 Ethical Corporation is another organization that stages high-profile conferences addressing CSR, business ethics and sustainability concerns. Ethical Corporation is an independent media firm, launched in 2001, to encourage debate and discussion on responsible business practices. So, while CSR was once regarded as largely a domestic business...
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