Finally: Why the “R” in “C.S.R.”?

You probably saw this coming.

In mid-July, I asked Why the “C” in “CSR”?. Two weeks later I followed up with, Why the “S” in “CSR”? In both cases, my complaint was basically that the words the letters stand for (i.e., “Corporate” and “Social”) are too narrow to capture the topic at hand. So, am I now going to question the R-as-in-“Responsibility?” Yes, here endeth the trilogy.

The “R” in “CSR” is there because CSR grew out of an interest in the idea that companies, especially the biggest and most powerful ones, have some obligation, some responsibility, to do right by the communities they are part of. But the notion of “responsibility” is inadequate to capture the range of questions about which CSR advocates are typically (and ought to be) concerned. Such as:

  • Questions about rights, such as “Is there a right to freedom of commercial speech? Does that right extend to corporations? Or does free speech only apply to individuals acting in their private capacity?”
  • Questions about value, such as “Are there some things that ought not be market goods? Which ones? Why?”
  • Questions about the virtues appropriate to the world of business.
  • Questions about what kinds of actions are permissible, even if not morally praiseworthy.
  • Questions about what kinds of actions are ethically desirable, even if they would not count as being a responsibility.

Now, each of those types of questions involves, at least tangentially, other questions that are about responsibility. But the questions above certainly cannot be reduced to questions of responsibility.

Of course, maybe people interested in CSR aren’t interested in those questions, or think such questions somehow are not central. But that just means that, whatever CSR is about, it isn’t about a whole range of the most interesting normative questions about business.

2 comments so far

  1. […] (CSR). I’ve asked, rhetorically, whether the “C,” the “S,” and the “R” make sense. I’ve argued that, no, in each case the word those letters stand for fail to […]

  2. […] Not all business obligations are social ones. And we’re interested not just in the responsibilities of business, but also permissions, duties, rights, entitlements, and so […]


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