Understanding Corporate Social Responsibility And Its Evolution

Defining strategic management

Strategic management may be defined as the process of formulating and implementing goals and objectives of an organization, usually executed by the top management staff (Hill, Jones and Schilling 2014). Strategic management is crucial in any organization because it points at the direction the company is heading towards, and also the short term and long term goals and objectives that must be fulfilled in due course of time. In short, it comprises the mission and vision of the company along with the policies and regulations devised for the attainment of mentioned objectives (Wheelen et al. 2017). As a matter of fact, it also includes the task of allocating appropriate resources to ensure that the objectives are fulfilled. Strategic management can be distinctly divided into two parts – strategic thinking and strategic planning. While the latter is slightly analytical in nature and involves the use of data and formalized procedures, the former occurs as a result of strategic planning and takes into account the data that goes into the formulation of a particular strategy (Eden and Ackermann 2013). Effective strategic management would require a comprehensive environment analysis (both internal and external) of the company. There are several concepts and frameworks that fall under the canopy of strategic management – all of these models have been created with one purpose in mind – seamless operations and organizational excellence (Goetsch and Davis 2014). One of the models of strategic management would be that of Corporate Social Responsibility, also known as CSR in common parlance.

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Business, or the corporate sector, has emerged in the twenty first century as one of the most potent and powerful forces in the world. Globalization and the advancement of technology have certainly brought the world closer, and it must be admitted that the business sector is growing at a startling rate (Hill et al. 2017). It would not be wrong to even claim that some of the world’s largest multinational corporations might be bigger in terms of sheer magnitude than most developing or underdeveloped countries. Recognition of this fact resulted in the need for corporate social responsibility – it was a realization that these companies needed to give something back to the community as well. The corporate industry has a certain responsibility towards the business itself, towards the stakeholders of the company and towards the customer or the general public (Schwartz 2017). The social responsibility part of CSR hints at the fact that every business has the onus of taking decisions and actions which could have a positive impact on society as a whole – the norms in place, in accordance with the international policies of CSR, could help uplift society and result in the betterment of the community at large (Tai and Chuang 2014).

The importance of strategic management in organizations

The term “corporate social responsibility” and the concepts that came along with it can actually be traced back to the Industrial Revolution during the nineteenth century. Back then, it was simply referred to as “social responsibility”, primarily because the concept of a corporation was non-existent in the 1800s. Nevertheless, it was the common belief that a company or an organization needed to be held accountable for their actions and thus needed to keep an eye on social welfare as well (McWilliams 2015. Before the 1950s, there were four distinct eras which must be studied to understand how CSR developed over the ages – these phases were specified by Patrick Murphy (Murphy and Schlegelmilch 2013). Before the onset of the 1950s, businesses and large corporations were extremely philanthropic and did not hesitate to donate huge sums to charity. During the second phase, there was a growing consciousness as to the actual responsibility of a company within a community and a need to get involved in the affairs of the society was felt. In the next phase, during the early 1970s, the companies began to take up issues like racial discrimination and pollution and attempted to raise their voice against these prejudices and malpractices. It was only during the late 1970s and early 1980s that organizations actually began to devise policies and regulations with regards to corporate social responsibility in order to implement them (Windsor 2013). Howard Bowen was one of the first scholars who were able to concisely define social responsibility, which later came to be known as CSR. According to him, social responsibility referred to the course of action undertaken by a businessman or the decisions made by him which took into account the values pertaining to society (Bowen 2013).

It would be wrong to assume that CSR simply refers to acts of charity carried out by an organization. On the contrary, this concept of CSR refers to the way companies integrate moral, social, ethical and environmental concerns as part of their business strategy – as a matter of fact, most companies are legally obligated to do so (Hiller 2013). The business sector is no longer merely the traditional means of earning profits; the recognition of the various evils pervading society gives rise to the growing concerns about business’s role in finding a solution to these persisting problems. Companies today are thus expected to act and function in a way that is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable (Ioannou and Serafeim 2015).

Corporate social responsibility and its role in society

Corporate social responsibility as a concept is steeped in rhetoric; that is primarily because there is no solid analytical foundation for it. Any corporate manager would agree with the fact that corporate social responsibility or socially sustainable actions are the morally and ethically right things to do for a company. However, the question arises as to why a company should invest in a business strategy like CSR where there is no financial benefit to the company as a whole. In order to understand that, one must first attempt to define what a corporation actually is. While some might say that a corporate exists solely because of the government, some are of the opinion that a corporate has an individual identity of its own. The actual answer lies somewhat in between; a corporate is an entity that may owe part of its existence to the government but is actually formed by the collaborative effort of both the government and the individuals involved in it – the people who formulate the policies and run the business (Chin, Hambrick and Treviño 2013). Going by this concept, there has to be some kind of harmony between the two parties, namely the government and the individuals. Good faith between both parties can ensure smooth functioning of the organization as a whole. This is where corporate social responsibility comes into being (Crane, Matten and Spence 2013).

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This also means that an organization, that is collaboratively owned and operated as mentioned above, would have to engage in morally and socially sustainable behaviors not only when there is a possibility of profits being earned but in two other situations – one, in a situation where the corporate has little or no chance of earning any financial gains whatsoever and two, when the question of financial gain is uncertain. In any of the three cases, an organization is expected to act on their corporate social responsibility, purely on the grounds of good faith (Ni and Van Wart 2015).

It must be remembered that a business does not function in complete isolation. Even some of the largest corporations in the world are dependent on their stakeholders for their success. Earlier it was believed that the sole purpose of any business was to optimize profit generation; back then, the distinction between stakeholders and shareholders was ambiguous. A stakeholder may not necessarily be a shareholder. This means a stakeholder is an individual or a group of people who are directly or indirectly affected by the activities of the company and vice versa (Rodrigue, Magnan, and Boulianne 2013). Thus, suppliers, customers, employees and other such groups may also be called stakeholders (Malin, Michelon and Raggi 2013). As a consequence, it becomes the responsibility of the organization to pay due attention to their stakeholders and ensure ethical and social concerns into their business policies; in other words, corporate social responsibility goes well beyond charity or simply doing good by others (Frederick 2016).

The evolution of corporate social responsibility

To really understand the concept of corporate social responsibility and its current scenario today, one must understand the process of evolution right from Milton Friedman who in 1991 claimed that the sole purpose of a corporation was to make profits. Contrary to his view, modern critics like Kramer and Porter have stressed on the theory of collaboration as discussed above. A business does not exist for the sole purpose of profits; as a matter of fact, corporate social responsibility means that an organization would have to shift their focus from profits to the greater good; they would have to forego a portion of their fortune in the interest of their stakeholders (Bosch-Badia, Montllor-Serrats and Tarrazon 2013). Friedman opined that the purpose of business should be to increase profits, not decrease them; also, managers who tried to impose principles of corporate social responsibility should be considered disloyal. He believed that any kind of activity that was purely philanthropic and did not contribute to the overall revenue generation of the organization would be deemed unnecessary (Ferrero, Hoffman and McNulty 2014). Friedman’s argument was negated by Freeman in this stakeholder theory. Freeman was of the opinion that just like the shareholders were considered important by an organization, the stakeholders’ interests also needed to be taken into account (Hörisch,  Freeman  and Schaltegger 2014). Including the stakeholders as part of the business strategy would give the organization a kind of competitive edge over other companies in the sector; for instance, such a policy might attract talented work force as well (Jones, Wicks and Freeman 2017).

According to Porter and Kramer (2014), it is the societal needs which should determine the course of action of an organization and not just the economic needs. By following a shared strategy format, a company would attempt to convert a capitalistic environment at the organization into one that is both economically and socially sustainable (Beschorner 2014).  Suffice to say, the evolution of corporate social responsibility took place in three phases; at first, CSR simply referred to the philanthropic nature of the organization, then it was utilized for value creation and finally a shared value strategy was devised. However, the major problem with CSR is the fact that simply focusing on returning profits to the society might not be financially wise for the company. Yet, from a managerial perspective, it may be beneficial if CSR is not viewed as an expense, but as an investment (Aigner 2016).  

The three phases of CSR development

The policy of corporate social responsibility aims at encouraging both small scale and large scale corporations to partake in activities that have a positive effect on the stakeholders and the environment of the organization (Servaes and Tamayo 2013). Basically, it was founded on the belief that an organization should be held accountable for the way its behavior or decisions affect others. While some people believed that CSR is a proponent of capital legitimacy, some were of the opinion that it was a mere social movement. However, it was this social movement which slowly emerged into a full blown strategy for business corporations. Strategic management in the form of a corporate social responsibility can add a competitive edge to a company; it is one of the most important aspects of strategic management today because of the benefits relating to cost, risk management, customer relationships, innovation capacity and human resource management as well (Homberg Stierl and Bornemann 2013).

The primary principle underlying the concept of CSR is the fact that besides focusing on financial objectives, it is also important for an organization to pay attention to its social responsibility. CSR would involve interactions with both the external and internal stakeholders; this would enable the organizations to understand the expectations of these stakeholders and adapt to the changing scenario. This would also enable the companies to target new markets and pave the way for more opportunities and growth. Corporate social responsibility is instrumental in establishing a relationship of trust between the employees, the organization and the customer. This allows for a sustainable business model and allows companies to innovate and create as well (Deng, Kang and Low 2013). The ongoing economic crisis, along with the ensuing social consequences, has created negative impressions in the minds of the stakeholders; this has resulted in stakeholders turning their attention to the ethical and social considerations of organizations. The economic and social crisis has led to dwindling job opportunities which can also be countered through corporate social responsibility programs.

The millennial population is on the rise in the twenty first century and for most young people seeking jobs today, implementation of a CSR model could be alluring. Today, millennials are likely to look up an organization online before applying for a job; they are also inclined to look at the company’s records as far as its ethical and legal records are concerned. If they like what they see, they are twice as likely to apply for a post. In simpler words, the inclusion of a CSR model equips the company with favorable branding or brand image and this goes for customer relationships as well. For instance, a customer is more likely to opt for a company with a favorable reputation than one that is known for ignoring its social, ethical and environmental responsibilities.

The importance of stakeholders in CSR

Not only does CSR help in increasing the revenue outcome of a company but also promotes progress and change throughout the world. It must be understood that philanthropy and CSR are two very different concepts. Corporate social responsibility should be ingrained within the values, vision and mission of a company. The mission statement of a company should reflect the policy of CSR and the measures taken by the company to maintain it. Organizations that are ignoring their corporate social responsibility could gain a bad reputation which could adversely affect their profitability.

There are numerous factors that have led to the evolution of CSR and its current status in the corporate world today. Two of them are consumer demands and the new trends in societal values. There is a greater need for companies to be in the good books of the consumers as far as social justice is concerned; this is all the more poignant keeping in mind the various scams and meltdowns that have happened in the past. This has called for more transparency in terms of CSR policies within an organization. However, while discussing the relevance of CSR, it must also be stressed that corporate social responsibility has led to several controversies as well. While supporters claim that CSR could yield numerous benefits for the company as discussed above, some have critiqued the policy saying that emphasizing CSR policies mean that shareholders would have to take a backseat. According to these skeptics, company’s primary responsibility and accountability should be to the shareholders, and then to the stakeholders and not the other way around. The fundamental purpose of a company is to earn profits, which would eventually lead to the benefit of the economy and consequently that of society as well. Despite valid points in the case of each argument, both skeptics and supporters would have to agree that any corporation, big or small, has a role to play in the society and has today emerged as a key player in the community. Moreover, with the easy availability of the internet and widespread reach of social media, lines of communication have opened up between the company and stakeholders. This enables the consumer to directly interact with the company in case they need an issue discussed or if they feel that the company is not living up to its social responsibilities. As a result, most corporations are taking up measures of incorporating CSR as part of their legal obligations.

The shift from profit-focused to socially sustainable business

In addition, corporate social responsibility, especially the concept that a company is making an effort towards the greater good wins the goodwill and loyalty of the consumers. However, it must also be mentioned that a company should stick to one activity as far as CSR is concerned because not all social activities have an effect on the customers. Also, the relevance of CSR in a corporation would depend on how far the practices are compatible with the overall business policies and strategies so as to ensure that the company does not incur losses. As of today, corporate social responsibility is a canopy term used to refer to a number of activities emanating from the human resources department, the public relations team or even the business development department of an organization.

To understand how corporate social responsibility fits in with other aspects of strategic management within a business, it is important to understand what makes it a strategic issue. A strategy can broadly be defined as a plan or an agenda that can help a company attain its objectives and goals by making the most of the available resources. Moreover, a strategy like CSR provides a competitive advantage to the company as well. However, it must be understood that corporate social responsibility is closely associated with another major tenet of strategic management – CFP or corporate financial performance which seeks to evaluate the financial goals and measures performance of the company.

Nestlé is one the most premier global companies in terms of nutrition, wellness and health. It is a multinational corporation that has over four hundred and sixty factories globally and operates in over eighty countries (Nestlé.com 2018). It has been observed that Nestlé carries out its operations in developing countries mostly, and as such, vows to protect the stakeholders of the company who are entirely dependent on it. With regards to the aforementioned discussion on the social responsibility of an organization, it can be said the groups that fall under Nestlé’s umbrella of CSR would be the employees, the suppliers, the customers and consumers and finally the environment. The mission of the company hints at its endeavor to uplift rural development in the countries it is operating in and also pay attention to the nutrition and health aspects of the same. For example, Nestlé ensures that all its raw materials are obtained from the primary sources, like farmers in developing countries. The products are then manufactured and distributed across the retailers. The company believes that since they function in developing countries, it is their responsibility to ensure that a level of cooperation exists between the locals or the native community and the company; moreover, the company strives to give something back to the community to enhance participation and collaboration.

  • Political factors: Nestlé functions in a majority of developing countries where there are strict policies with regards to food and nutrition laws and regulations (Nestlé 2013).
  • Economic factors– Since Nestlé takes into account the economy of the developing countries while operating, it ensures that the farmers’ and producers’ interests are at the centre of their CSR policy.
  • Social factors– Since Nestlé promotes nutrition, there were growing social concerns regarding the impact of its products on obesity. Consequently, Nestlé introduced a number of fat free products for its health conscious consumers (Drewnowski 2017).
  • Technological factors– Keeping in mind global standards, Nestlé ensures that it uses top quality technology to manufacture its products. It has also incorporated social media marketing and ecommerce as part of its business strategy.
  • Environmental factors– As part of its CSR policy, Nestlé ensures that none of its activities cause a severe adverse impact on the surrounding environment. The measures taken by the company have been discussed in the next section.
  • Legal factors– Nestlé is legally obligated to abide by health standards and safety laws and also ensure hygiene for the employees.

Porter and Kramer’s shared value approach

A PROFIT analysis of the company suggests that the profits earned by the company are above average and necessary precautions should be taken to maintain the same. However, an increased concern for safety and health standards along with expansion into newer markets would generate more revenues for Nestlé. The corporate social responsibility of the company could help it win the goodwill of the customers which further contributes towards customer loyalty and retention (Eberle, Berens and Li 2013). One of the major threats faced by the company would be the concerns regarding packaging and processing of food products and the changing lifestyles due to which people across the world are losing interest in home cooked meals. For instance, the baby milk fiasco took a massive toll on Nestlé’s revenue generation (Mueller 2013).

  • Unethical mass dismissals– Nestlé has often been accused of unlawfully dismissing employees without prior notice. Employee laws usually demand a one month prior notice, which Nestlé violated a number of times.
  • Discrimination, resulting in wage gaps– According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every employee should be eligible for equal pay for equal work. But a comparison of the wages of Nestlé employees showed discrimination.
  • Trade unions– Trade unions were brutally dismissed and no collaboration was established between them and the company. The company paid no heed to the basic right of an employee to form unions, which can form the channel of communication between the workforce and the management.
  • Ambiguous global policies– Every time Nestlé’s policy on trade unions has been challenged, it shifted the blame to an ambiguous global policy that cannot be altered.
  • Unethical working conditions– Although Nestlé claims that the welfare of the employees is its primary concern, an analysis of the work life balance of Nestlé employees would show that on many accounts, employees have been compelled to work extra shifts which are against the law.
  • Violation of international law- Nestlé has also earned a bad reputation for having violated a number of international policies and OECD guidelines.

Taking into account the various repercussions of the above mentioned drawbacks, it was necessary for Nestlé to develop a robust corporate social responsibility strategy that would not only maximize profit generation but would also win back the trust of their customers. Based on the internal and external environmental analysis, the following are the key areas covered by the CSR strategy:

  • Rural development– Specific measures are being taken to understand the unique needs and demands of the farmers in order to propel rural growth. Nestlé works in accordance with the cocoa farmers so as to cater to their needs. Accountable sourcing is also a part of their supply chains (Glover and Kusterer 2016).
  • Water– Nestlé has adopted policies that ensure judicious use of water and sustainability across the operations. Water policies have been executed and attempts have been made to spread awareness about water pollution and conservation (Piper 2014).
  • Environment sustainability– Climate change leadership policies have been included so as to enhance efficiency of resource management at Nestlé. Also, measures have been taken to minimize the toll on the environment as far as packaging is concerned. Natural capitals, like forests, are also being preserved by Nestlé. Such environmental policies and regulations create the notion of a green company.
  • Stakeholders– Keeping in mind ethical concerns, Nestlé has carried out active campaigns to eradicate child labor and illegal labor practices in factories around the world. The Nestlé management upholds human rights and ensures that all the stakeholders involved in the supply chain are guaranteed their innate human rights (Patrizia and Gianluca 2013). Also, health and safety standards are adhered to so as to create a secured working environment for the employees. Nestlé has also tried to combat evils in the society like bribery and corruption.
  • Nutrition– Nestlé has also ensured that the products manufactured by the company are nutritionally sound; accordingly, campaigns have been organized to spread awareness about nutritional requirements of babies, infants and adolescents.

The following are three of the most important types of corporate social responsibility strategies followed by the company:

The Nestlé Environment Management System or NEMS was a CSR strategy devised by Nestlé to ensure that the company adheres to the international guidelines regarding environmental impacts. It also entails minimizing waste production and conservation of natural resources. These guidelines have been imposed to make sure that Nestlé continues to establish a mutual trust between them and the stakeholders by complying with international environment standards (Nestlé.com 2018).

Nestlé has introduced several Nutrition Development Programs in developing countries around the world to emphasize on the importance of health food products for growing children. In Oman, there is a dedicated centre for excellence which seeks to promote food and hygiene standards amongst youngsters in the Middle East and also to spread awareness about the need for nutrient rich food products (Nestlé.com 2018).

This is an initiative taken by Nestlé in order to facilitate their supply chain and to promote a degree of transparence and clarity in their policies (Laosirihongthong, Adebanjo and Choon Tan 2013). A life cycle approach or LCA has been adopted by the company to enhance their supply chains; such an approach studies the impact of a product on the environment. For example, for their coffee products, Nestlé started the assessment process from the cocoa farmers so as to minimize environmental toll. Similarly, Nestlé has vowed to completely obliterate pollution caused by emissions by the year 2030. This ensures corporate sustainability as well (Wolf 2014).

The impact of corporate social responsibility on organizations


To conclude, in can be said that corporate social responsibility is one of the most relevant strategic issues in an organization today. It is given that the purpose of a corporation is towards its shareholders who have invested in it – to ensure that the profit margin is maximized and revenue outcome is optimized. However, in this aspect, one cannot ignore the ethical concerns surrounding an organization and its social responsibility regarding the same. A company is just as obligated to meet the demands of their stakeholders as they are to earn profits for their shareholders. The stakeholders of the company would refer to anyone who is directly or indirectly impacted by the organizations activities; thus, it is the responsibility of the company to make sure that they retain the good faith of their stakeholders through actions that are guided by a social code and ethics. Also, as the case study on CSR in Nestlé shows, a company is also responsible for the impact its product has on the environment. Like Nestlé, every company needs to have specific programs and policies in place to “green” the supply chains and conserve natural resources. Corporate social responsibility, a concept that was introduced in the 1950s, was merely a recommendation to organizations in the initial phases; however, in the twenty first century, it has emerged as a mandatory policy for most organizations. It must be remembered that including CSR in the business strategy of a company would improve customer loyalty and retention and also gain the trust of all those involved in the functioning of an organization as a whole.


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