Javier Martínez, Asessor in the Social Innovation Area of Institut Cerdà
Although Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) may seem a new concept for some, it was in fact born in the late 1950s and early 60s in the United States when, in the wake of the Vietnam War and conflicts like apartheid, many citizens began to consider the behaviour of their companies and the consumption of certain products in the face of these realities. Specifically, the first time the concept of the “Social Responsibilities of the Businessmen” was used was in 1953, when economist Howard R. Bowen appealed to corporate social responsibility to produce not only goods or services but also to return part of the benefits to the society.
It has been a long journey and it is very true that today most organisations now appreciate that it is very difficult to survive without a social commitment. It is also true that 66 years after having created the concept, society is no longer the same: it is now more committed and more militant in all those issues that refer to social rights and the preservation of the environment. It is also more intolerant of brands and organizations that do not comply with socially acceptable parameters. In fact, in the year 2000, Naomi Klein, in her book “No logo” already established that, as people get to know companies and their practices, they move further away from them.
It is obvious that that we are living in a time of increasing distance between citizens and organizations or between consumers and brands. Companies have been losing credibility with society, not only for doing things badly (although this is the case for some), but also for not listening and not understanding society well. We have learned to quickly adapt products and services to citizen tastes, but, in many cases, we have not been able to give these products or services the real social impact that people also demand.
Today, it is no longer enough to comply with CSR parameters, in terms of doing some social work and including the results in our annual reports. Neither is it enough to adhere to the now famous Sustainable Development Goals, that are achieving such popularity among organizations, for society to really sees us as socially engaged companies. What customers, users or consumers ask is that we be transparent and real organizations in aspects such as ethics, the involvement with our most direct environments, the preservation of the environment. Above all, they ask that we have, beyond objectives and programs, a true intention of social impact through business action.
For this we must modify many performance guidelines, we must introduce business models adapted to these new requirements, and we must be aware that the responsibility of the company and of any organization goes beyond a pure economic return to shareholders. Responsibility must also consider how to respond to the expectations of many of your stakeholders, who have much more strength and power than before. The great transformation that we must understand and assume in the strategy of companies is that in addition to maximising the economic return on investments, we must be a company that society wants to exist. Without it, the company will end up being irrelevant in its sector. The change is to understand that we must move from the CSR to the social license granted by society itself.