Whose Corporate Social Responsibility?

NEW YORK – Increasingly, corporations are under pressure, often from activist non-governmental organizations, to take on specific “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) obligations. But the fact that CSR is being demanded, and occasionally conceded, does not ensure clarity about either its rationale or the ways in which it should be undertaken.

CSR can be divided into two categories: what corporations should do (say, contribute to a women’s rights NGO or build a village school) and what they should not do (say, dump mercury into rivers or bury hazardous materials in landfills). The latter is wholly conventional and subject to regulation (and recently to questions about how corporations should behave when there are no host-country regulations).