Governance systems and corporate social responsibility

Most people would say that corporate social responsibility is an Anglo-Saxon concept which has been developed primarily in the UK and the USA. Critics however would say that it is only under the Anglo-Saxon model of governance that there could ever be a need for CSR. They would argue that the Cartesian dichotomy is a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon development which led directly to the notion of a free market as a mediating mechanism and the acceptance of the use of power for one's own end, in true utilitarian style. This has led to the loss of a sense of community responsibility which removed any sense of social responsibility from business. This therefore necessitated its reinvention in the form of corporate social responsibility, just as it necessitated the development of codes of corporate governance.

The Latin model of governance however is founded in the context of the family and the local community and is therefore the opposite of the Anglo Saxon model, being based on a bottom up philosophy rather than a hierarchical top down approach. Thus this model is based on the fact that extended families are associated with all other family members and therefore feel obligated. In such a model of governance the sense of social responsibility remains strong and is applied to firms just as much as individuals. This sense of social responsibility has never therefore been really lost and consequently there has been no need for its reinvention.

The Anglo Saxon system of governance is of course the dominant model throughout the world and, as a consequence, the concern with corporate social responsibility has spread to other systems of governance. It would be reasonable therefore to argue that the concept now permeates all business models and all systems of governance, no matter what the antecedents or the necessity might be. Consequently we are able to address global perspectives on the issues of corporate governance and corporate social responsibility in this volume without fear of being regarded as Anglo-centric.

Relating corporate governance and corporate social responsibility

It is of course no longer questioned that the activities of a corporation impact upon the external environment and that therefore such an organisation should be accountable to a wider audience than simply its shareholders. This is a central tenet of both the concept of corporate governance and the concept of corporate social responsibility. Implicit in this is a concern with the effects of the actions of an organisation on its external environment and there is a recognition that it is not just the owners of the organisation who have a concern with the activities of that organisation. Additionally there are a wide variety of other stakeholders who justifiably have a concern with those activities, and are affected by those activities. Those other stakeholders have not just an interest in the activities of the firm but also a degree of influence over the shaping of those activities. This influence is so significant that it can be argued that the power and influence of these stakeholders is such that it amounts to quasi-ownership of the organisation.

Central to this social contract is a concern for the future which has become manifest through the term sustainability. This term sustainability has become ubiquitous both within the discourse of globalization and within the discourse of corporate performance. Sustainability is of course a controversial issue and there are many definitions of what is meant by the term. At the broadest definitions sustainability is concerned with the effect which action taken in the present has upon the options available in the future. If resources are utilized in the present then they are no longer available for use in the future, and this is of particular concern if the resources are finite in quantity. Thus raw materials such as coal, iron or oil are finite in quantity and once used are not available for future use. At some point in the future therefore alternatives will be needed to fulfill the functions currently provided by these resources. This may be at some point in the relatively distant future but of more immediate concern is the fact that as resources become depleted then the cost of acquiring the remaining resources tends to increase, and hence the operational costs of organisations tend to increase.

Sustainability therefore implies that society must use no more of a resource than can be regenerated. This can be defined in terms of the carrying capacity of the ecosystem and described with input - output models of resource consumption. Viewing an organisation as part of a wider social and economic system implies that these effects must be taken into account, not just for the measurement of costs and value created in the present but also for the future of the business itself. Such concerns are pertinent at a macro level of society as a whole, or at the level of the nation state but are equally relevant at the micro level of the corporation, the aspect of sustainability with which we are concerned in this book. At this level, measures of sustainability would consider the rate at which resources are consumed by the organisation in relation to the rate at which resources can be regenerated. Unsustainable operations can be accommodated either by developing sustainable operations or by planning for a future lacking in resources currently required. In practice organisations mostly tend to aim towards less unsustainability by increasing efficiency in the way in which resources are utilised. An example would be an energy efficiency programme.

One view of good corporate performance is that of stewardship and thus just as the management of an organisation is concerned with the stewardship of the financial resources of the organisation so too would management of the organisation be concerned with the stewardship of environmental resources. The difference however is that environmental resources are mostly located externally to the organisation. Stewardship in this context therefore is concerned with the resources of society as well as the resources of the organisation. As far as stewardship of external environmental resources is concerned then the central tenet of such stewardship is that of ensuring sustainability. Sustainability is focused on the future and is concerned with ensuring that the choices of resource utilisation in the future are not constrained by decisions taken in the present. This necessarily implies such concepts as generating and utilising renewable resources, minimizing pollution and using new techniques of manufacture and distribution. It also implies the acceptance of any costs involved in the present as an investment for the future.

Not only does such sustainable activity however impact upon society in the future; it also impacts upon the organisation itself in the future. Thus good environmental performance by an organisation in the present is in reality an investment in the future of the organisation itself. This is achieved through the ensuring of supplies and production techniques which will enable the organisation to operate in the future in a similar way to its operations in the present and so to undertake value creation activity in the future much as it does in the present. Financial management also however is concerned with the management of the organization's resources in the present so that management will be possible in a value creation way in the future. Thus the internal management of the firm, from a financial perspective, and its external environmental management coincide in this common concern for management for the future. Good performance in the financial dimension leads to good future performance in the environmental dimension and vice versa. Thus there is no dichotomy between environmental performance and financial performance and the two concepts conflate into one concern. This concern is of course the management of the future as far as the firm is concerned.

Similarly the creation of value within the firm is followed by the distribution of value to the stakeholders of that firm, whether these stakeholders are shareholders or others. Value however must be taken in its widest definition to include more than economic value as it is possible that economic value can be created at the expense of other constituent components of welfare such as spiritual or emotional welfare. This creation of value by the firm adds to welfare for society at large, although this welfare is targeted at particular members of society rather than treating all as equals. This has led to arguments concerning the distribution of value created and to whether value is created for one set of stakeholders at the expense of others. Nevertheless if, when summed, value is created then this adds to welfare for society at large, however distributed. Similarly good environmental performance leads to increased welfare for society at large, although this will tend to be expressed in emotional and community terms rather than being capable of being expressed in quantitative terms. This will be expressed in a feeling of wellbeing, which will of course lead to increased motivation. Such increased motivation will inevitably lead to increased productivity, some of which will benefit the organisations, and also a desire to maintain the pleasant environment which will in turn lead to a further enhanced environment, a further increase in welfare and the reduction of destructive aspects of societal engagement by individuals.


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