To what extent is it essential that all businesses operate in a socially responsible manner? (20m)
When a business acts in an ethical manner, they are effectively reinvesting their revenue into society. This is not technically essential to the running of a business, however a symbiosis exists between all businesses and the host society. If a business gives back to society, then society can better support the business.
Jamie’s Garden is an example of a business that aims to act responsibly, taking Corporate Social Responsibility to heart. Not only have they taken actions to ensure their day to day operations are good for everyone, with support for fair trade and sustainable wild harvesting programmes, but they also make fairly regular additional contributions that are of no direct benefit to themselves. For instance, in 2012, they planted over 700 trees for the Woodland Trust’s Diamond Jubilee. This demonstrates a desire to be a force for good in society, rather than simply a profit making machine.
They have also taken this above the point of just trying to tick a box, as their commitments to the people surrounding their business and the planet are clear, meaning that they are also, possibly unintentionally, using Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line.
However, whilst it is clear that Jamie’s Garden sees society as an asset and frequently invests into it, not every business acts in the same way. Many much larger businesses are only concerned with one real measure, which is profit. These businesses may appear more successful on paper and may find it easier to attract investment. But these businesses likely are not able to build such great loyalty from customers as they will not have anywhere near the social credentials of Jamie’s Garden. Additionally, these businesses are taking a more parasitic approach to society, as they are operating in their own interest and expecting society to provide infrastructure and other resources for them. It would be possible to argue that these businesses pay tax, so they are making a contribution to society, and whilst this is most definitely true, if a business is reporting multiple millions of pounds of profit, they can definitely afford to give more back. Investing in a school would be an amazing way of investing in everyone’s future. If a business commits to providing a school with funding and teaching resources to improve the quality of learning that students have, then in future students from that school will be able to contribute more to the business. Creating a balanced relationship between a business and society is highly advisable for any business that can.
In summary, CSR is possibly an expensive and time-consuming use of business resources, but it will further ingrain a business into society and make a business part of a local community rather than merely present in a local community. A business that makes regular contributions to those around it will find it easier to secure staff, customers and support as people will see it as more than the products that it produces. Therefore, any business that does not contribute back to society or have strong CSR credentials is wasting the potential that comes with it. A business can operate without CSR, and a business can succeed without CSR, but in the long-term, using CSR to bolster a business position could shield them from unexpected issues.