How close are CSR and philanthropy?
A Conference Board study reveals a lack of clarity in the definition and composition of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) across different industries.
A recent research report by The Conference Board, a global
independent business membership and research association, has
uncovered significant divergence in how American corporations view
and communicate their CSR activities. The report includes data from
103 of the Fortune 500 companies' websites.
While a traditional 'welfare capitalist' view of corporate
obligations remains widespread, not every industry viewed CSR and
philanthropy as directly linked. Although philanthropy was included
in the practices of 98% of the companies surveyed, those that had
more direct contact with customers, such as commercial banking,
seemed more likely to use the term philanthropy to define CSR. By
contrast, one corporation in the tobacco industry identified its
CSR as activity benefiting its shareholders. Industries that are
dependent on the exploitation of natural resources, such as
chemical, mining and crude oil production, gas and electric
industries, identified environmental responsibility as their
primary CSR focus.
Even within those industries that placed their CSR activities in
the context of philanthropy, there was some variation in how the
term was being used. Consumer-based corporations defined their CSR
practices purely in terms of philanthropy, with 13 of these
companies identifying philanthropic giving programmes as examples.
Within the chemical industry, corporations expressed a commitment
to philanthropy with a specific focus on employee volunteerism. The
utilities industries meanwhile demonstrated the greatest commitment
to philanthropy, with one company, Northeast Utilities, defining
philanthropic responsibilities as "making financial and in-kind
contributions and encouraging employee volunteerism".
The report concludes that at both institutional and industry
level, corporations give communication primacy to ethical and
philanthropic responsibilities over legal and economic
responsibilities. At the same time, says the report, "CSR remains
limited in its scope to those ethical and philanthropic
responsibilities that benefit the bottom line."