The term Corporate Social Responsibility has assumed many definitions in the Nigerian context and has become synonymous with philanthropy and charity giving thereby limiting the scope behind the concept of CSR.
How did CSR start, what are the values behind this concept and how does it solicit goodwill from varied publics?
According to ukessays.com, the concept of CSR can be traced back 5000 years to ancient Mesopotamia around 1700 BC when King Hammurabi introduced a code in which builders, innkeepers or farmers were put to death if their negligence caused the deaths of others. Again in ancient Rome, senators grumbled about the failure of businesses to contribute sufficient taxes to fund their military campaigns demanding that these businesses be more responsible to the public good. With industrialisation however, came the need for businesses to be more accountable to and for their immediate environment and by the1920s came a clamour for what is now known as corporate social responsibility.
The term corporate social responsibility was coined in 1953 and became known as the ethical principle that an organization should be responsible for how its behaviour might affect society and the environment. However, in time, this concept of CSR assumed different meanings in different societies, to Chinese consumers, for example, being socially responsible entails making safe, high-quality products, for Germans social responsibility provides secure employment, while in South Africa, an organization that makes a positive contribution to social needs such as health care and education is socially responsible.
Despite these, some schools of thought have emerged that paint CSR in an unflattering light, political sociologists view CSR as a form of capitalist hand-out positing that what began as a social movement against unmitigated corporate powers has been cleverly circumvented by corporations into a business model often with questionable results, yet other critics opine that CSR is merely an attempt to subvert the role of government as a watchdog over powerful organisations.
According to Linda Carroll, Corporate social responsibility includes six types of corporate social initiatives namely; Corporate philanthropy, Community volunteering, Socially-responsible business practices, Cause promotions, Cause-related marketing and Corporate social marketing.
In Nigeria however, CSR has been made into a promotional tactic where organizations seek to be seen as doing something beneficial for the public cause. Such initiatives which are usually short-lived and not sustainable serve as a reason for media exposure and press opportunities but are soon forgotten when the attention from the media is gained and exploited.
According to Curt Moreno, companies which are well known for their CSR initiatives include the giant search company, Google through its Google Green initiative which is a corporate effort to use resources efficiently and support renewable power. Through recycling and power conservation, Google has seen an overall drop in power requirements for their data centres by an average of 50%. These environmentally friendly initiatives are in line with the global policy of going green while serving to save and divert resources to other initiatives.
Another company, Target Corporation, the second-largest discount store retailer in the United States has since 1946 been investing into communities in which they have stores. Over the past several years, the company’s efforts have amounted to 5% of its profit going to local communities, this amounts to about $4 million each week and in the area of education alone, Target has donated more than $875 million since 2010.
Another company, Altered Seasons, an eco-friendly candle company founded by Kelly Reddington at age 14 provides (for every candle sold) a meal to Americans in need of food through Feeding America.
Reasons to imbibe a sustainable CSR policy include; to win new businesses increase customer retention, develop and enhance relationships with customers, suppliers and networks, competitive advantage, improving business reputation and to generate positive media publicity.
In summary, we can say that CSR, when practiced in a sustainable and credible manner is an extension of PR in that while PR seeks to solicit good will from an organization’s varied publics, CSR aims at giving back to these publics as a reward for their continued patronage and faith in the organization.
They both can be used to improve business reputation, generate positive media publicity and innovatively differentiate themselves from the competition. They also seek to build engaging and sustainable relationships with all stakeholders hence proving that a well planned combination of these two strategies will ultimately improve and enhance the brand equity of any brand.