GSB WORKING PAPER NO.62
Corporate Social Responsibility: A definition
by Gail Thomas Graduate School of Business Curtin University of Technology Margaret Nowak Graduate School of Business Curtin University of Technology CRICOS Provider Code 00301J
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Working Paper Series 62
Corporate Social Responsibility: A definition I
by Gail Thomas Graduate School of Business Curtin University of Technology Margaret Nowak Graduate School of Business Curtin University of Technology
Working Paper Series No. 62 (Curtin University of Technology, Graduate School of Business)
Corporate Social Responsibility: A definition
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has variously been described as a ‘motherhood issue’ (Ryan 2002, p. 302) ‘the hot business issue of the noughties’ (Blyth 2005, p. 30) and ‘the talk of the town in corporate circles these days’ (Mees & Bonham 2004). There seems to be an infinite number of definitions of CSR, ranging from the simplistic to the complex, and a range of associated terms and ideas (some used interchangeably), including ‘corporate sustainability, corporate citizenship, corporate social investment, the triple bottom line, socially responsible investment, business sustainability and corporate governance’ (Prime Minister's Community Business Partnership). It has been suggested that ‘some…researchers…distort the definition of corporate social responsibility or performance so much that the concept becomes morally vacuous, conceptually meaningless, and utterly unrecognizable’(Orlitzky 2005); or CSR may be regarded as ‘the panacea which will solve the global poverty gap, social exclusion and environmental degradation’ (Van Marrewijk 2003).
Hopkins has commented that ‘without a common language we don’t really know that our dialogue with companies is being heard and interpreted in a consistent way’ (Hopkins 2003, p. 125). It is therefore important to explore the language of CSR if we are to understand and debate the concepts involved. This literature review
examines the evolution of CSR and seeks to identify some of the more common or prominent definitions that have evolved and the context within which they have been used. The review is not an exhaustive list of definitions but aims to synthesise the
main points in a way that may be useful to the broader discussion of CSR. While the review focuses on the literature of academe, it also explores the views of industry espoused in less formal means of communication.
Historical definitions of CSR
While the term CSR may appear to be relatively new to the corporate world, the literature reveals that the evolution of the concept itself has taken place over several decades. The fact that the terminology itself has changed over this time also
suggests that the meaning ascribed to concepts such as CSR will continue to evolve in tune with business, political and social developments. The impact of globalisation and mass communication also means that while definitions will reflect local
situations, they will also be strongly influenced by global trends and changes in international law.
1920s – 1950s
It has been suggested by Windsor that ‘business leaders have since the 1920s widely adhered to some conception of responsibility and responsiveness practices’ (Windsor 2001, p. 229). Others...
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