Corporate social responsibility (CSR) evolved as a response to the threat anti-corporate campaigns pose to companies' license to operate. But corporate social responsibility is a contradiction in terms. Companies are legally bound to maximise profits to shareholders.
This duty to make money above all other considerations means that corporations can only be 'socially responsible' if they are being insincere. Any doubtful social benefits from CSR are outweighed by the losses to society in other areas.
CSR is an effective strategy for:
- Bolstering a company's public image
- Avoiding regulation
- Gaining legitimacy and access to markets and decision makers
- Shifting the ground towards privatisation of public functions.
CSR enables business to propose ineffective, voluntary, market-based solutions to social and environmental crises under guise of being responsible.
This deflects blame for problems caused by corporate operations away from the company, and protects companies' interests while hampering efforts to tackle the root causes of social and environmental injustice.
CSR does not pose any sustainable solutions. It can easily be reversed if the economic climate changes. As well as being voluntary, it reinforces rather than challenges the power of corporations. A genuinely socially responsible company would look so different from today's corporations as to be unrecognisable.
Tackling the big issues of overconsumption, climate change and massive economic inequality requires major shifts in our lifestyles and systems of social organisation. CSR seems to present us with an easy alternative – using corporate power as a lever for social change rather than seeing it as an obstacle.
Ultimately, CSR is not a step towards a more fundamental reform of the corporate structure but a distraction from it. Exposing and rejecting CSR is a step towards addressing corporate power.
Corporate Structures Researcher