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Corporate Social Responsibility – The Optional-to-Mandatory Journey

By Ayush Dev Pant

A corporation operates in an environment that is highly influenced by its diverse stakeholders of various forms. All the stakeholders from customers to suppliers are an integral part of business where that business is an integral part of the society. About a decade ago, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was a fairy tale in the market, where very few considered it to be a pivotal part of the predominant business functions. Today, America along with the world, has incorporated CSR amongst the valued functions of a business despite the fact that CSR initiatives and communicating activities within the areas of philanthropy, stewardship, volunteerism, and environmental affairs are not treated as a regulatory compliance issue in the country.

The modern corporate sustainability movement started in the late 1990s, in the wake of globalization debates and the Battle of Seattle. Since then the impetus of CSR adaptation has been conspicuous. The areas for CSR go beyond the company, but it should start from the intramurals of the company itself. Nike, one of the leading sports brands, influenced the United Nations to bring amendments in the supply chain schemes at the launch of UN Global Compact as the supply chain policies lacked morals. Since then, over 10,000 companies have joined the program, and Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) issues have been addressed exceptionally. The Green Movement has been the highest where companies are opting for renewable energy for operations, where recently IKEA announced its plans to introduce home delivery by electric vehicles in Europe, U.S. and China by the year 2020. Working with an ethical culture itself is a form of CSR for all the involved parties. A healthy working environment, staying true to the employees as well as customers, use of standard raw materials are basic ethical functions but has always been neglected by many for profit. The #MeToo campaign has highlighted sexual harassment issues in the workplace, and the campaign is trending all over the world. It’s the new generation of diverse people who have played a major part in intensifying the need for the execution of responsibilities of corporations, and it has worked impressively.

CSR is also used as a marketing angle by many. Corporate Social Responsibility definitely markets the company in a positive or negative light, and Public Relations is something that comes naturally with CSR. So, it is a win-win pursuit. According to Forbes, in 2018 we will witness CSR trends that this world has yearned for a long time which include the beginning of the end of workplace harassment and inequality, expanding the diversity conversation, focused and forward-thinking brand activism, a shift from disaster recovery to climate resilience, more CSR in the C-Suite, higher standards for suppliers and prioritizing privacy as well as data protection. If these trends take positive strides, then the Triple Bottom Line (People, Planet and Profit) will be a reality in the corporate world.

The phrase Triple Bottom Line was introduced in 1994 by John Elkington, which gives the basis of measurement beyond the corporate finances by integrating degrees of social responsibility, its economic value and its environmental impact. More than two and a half decades later this phrase is being practiced. What took so long? There are several reasons for that, and the one factor that is placed amongst the top in the list is ‘Workforce.’ The workforce composition today is the most dynamic as the Millennials and the members of Generation Z have taken the market by storm. They are the generations that seek social benefit with almost everything they do.

Last year, we saw Lego, Microsoft and Google bag the first, second and third position as the leaders of the Most Socially Reputable Companies. In recent years, performance and competitiveness is not limited to market share and growth, it has taken a social form. The optional-to-mandatory journey of CSR has given way to new forms of business. Companies like Humanista have entered the market where they educate companies, cities, and investors on the importance of social purpose and how to implement social practices to ensure long-term growth and sustainability. Today, CSR has taken a deeper hue of green, and with the emerging workforce of the most socially responsible generation, ethics and sustainability will thrive more than ever.

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