The importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is on the rise in the business world today. Many social and environmental movements are pushing forward with their efforts and continue to force companies to become more transparent and responsible for their operations.
CSR, in short, can be described as companies taking the initiative to do what is “right” and ethical in all areas of operation. For example, a pharmaceutical company that dumps its waste into the nearest river is a bad example of a company being socially or environmentally responsible. A company committed to only buying raw materials from manufacturers who treat their workers fairly and responsibly is, on the other side, a good example of social responsibility from a company.
With the increasing number of business scandals (i.e. Enron), the rise of the quality of living in third-world countries, the increasing number of NGO voices, governmental regulation, etc., it makes sense that the average consumer is naturally becoming more conscious about what they are buying and is more aware of how the things they put in their shopping cart can affect the lives of others overseas. Being socially responsible is becoming the trend and its the “cool” thing to do. I hope that it is a movement that sticks and doesn’t fall into the pit with the countless number of past fads.
CSR encompasses areas such as the environment, working conditions, customer satisfaction, human rights, etc. Even where companies get raw materials is an area where they can choose to either practice CSR or not. Taken from Starbucks’ website, this quote represents a step they are taking as a company to be more responsible in their operations:
We take a holistic approach to ethically sourcing coffee through responsible purchasing practices, farmer loans and forest conservation programs. – Starbucks
Social issues have been around for a long time, but not much attention or effort has been put in to change certain issues because the society at large hasn’t seen it as a problem. Think of Henry Ford and how he ran his assembly line; working conditions were sub-par and child labor was used. Thankfully, there are much better working conditions as a whole in America and the use of child labor banned. However, instead of abolishing these conditions and issues, companies saw a way to still reduce costs by pushing all these same problems overseas.
Modern day examples would be Apple outsourcing manufacturing to Foxconn and having a hands-off attitude and approach to how the manufacturing work conditions and workers were treated. Another example would be the plethora of complaints being filed by employees against Wal-mart for being forced into slave labor and harsh working conditions.
We used to live in the era where the best way to capture a strong presence in the market was to offer products that were “better, faster, and cheaper.” However, the shift from a customer base that had once been predominantly apathetic to social issues and unaware of where their products came from, to a customer base who are increasingly aware of social issues and more knowledgeable about where and how the products they buy are produced, is making it more important for companies to restructure their organizational structure and how they operate. Maybe there is some truth in the theory that the free market will flow along the lines of what is best for society at that moment.
In Christian higher-ed we have the concept of stewardship, that God has given us responsibility for maintaining the sustainability of His creation. He does not say “as long as it remains profitable,” but instead makes this an unqualified priority for mankind. – E. Alan Kluge, PhD (George Fox University School of Business)
Stewardship is defined as the conducting, supervising, or managing of something, especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. As Christians the thing that God has made us responsible for is the earth. Business schools are beginning to react to the market and the need for employees well versed in CSR skills. Institutions such as George Fox University, and other Christian faith-based institutions, should seek to educate their students in a manner that prepares them to do what is right at all times even when it is not the trend. If CSR becomes a principle ebbs and flows in the business world, Christian business people should be the ones who are always seeking to lead the movement of CSR regardless of incentive to do so.
The big difference is this. I think we (GFU and the like) should be teaching that doing the socially “right” thing should be done even if it is not rewarded by free markets. Essentially, the motto then becomes just “Do good.” This approach is transformational and lasting because it is not reciprocal in any way. Christ often calls us to a life of paradox and there is nothing paradoxical about current-day CSR…it is completely rational. – Ryan Halley, PhD (George Fox University School of Business)
Indeed, it seems that the CSR movement is one that Christians can be a part of without being “of this world.” Jesus, in many of his teachings, does tell us to live in a way that may seem as a paradox, and in a way the motive to move forward to CSR for a Christian should be different from that of other business people. The majority of the business world sees a CSR as a thing that is currently needed in order to sustain and increase shareholder wealth. What happens when is no longer a force that will “increase shareholder wealth?” Do we then abandon ship and abandon our social responsibility as business people?
CSR is more than just corporate programs created to “give back” – even if doing so just to improve moral of the potential customer and, therefore, the bottom line – it is also internal commitments and programs to ethical behavior, making the right choices on behalf of the company, brand, products, and shareholders, etc. In my opinion, CSR starts internal/within the company long before it goes outside to consumer based “socially responsible” programs. – Laurie J. Koehler (Consumer Campaigns Activation Manager, Intel Corporation)
To create a lasting impact on the business world in regards to social responsibility, it is important that changes are made within the company first, rather than hoping that programs and “socially responsible” marketing ploys will actually change the direction of companies for the better.
What to Do
I suppose one way to put it is this: “What would Jesus do if he ran a school of business?” Oh, wait a minute! He does run a school of business! It’s right here and we are part of it. How well are we doing? – Thomas F. Head, MS, MA (George Fox University School of Business)
Take advantage of the education you are being provided with here at George Fox University. Business major or not, make sure that you do not separate your faith from how you learn or from your future career. Instead, use your faith in God to your advantage and to the betterment of others. If you stick to your morals and your beliefs no matter what the consequences or benefits may be, you stay true to yourself and you honor the God that we are to serve with all our hearts, mind, and bodies.
If you’re sitting in a lecture and you question what you’re learning and how you can apply your faith to it … raise your hand! Staff and faculty here at George Fox University should be more than willing to give examples of how your faith can and is relevant in the career path you choose to go down.
It may seem an economic disadvantage when you try to stick to your faith, but then again did Christ promise a life full of economic wealth if we follow him? No. Make sure to not live of this world and be entrapped by its riches, but make sure that you live in this world with a sense of stewardship in all that you do. If God rewards you financially, then so be it. However he rewards your faithfulness, there is a 100% satisfaction guarantee that comes with it.
—A special thanks to the people quoted above for their contribution to this issue.