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The question about whether CSR should be strategic is an ethical question. Supporters of the pristine capitalist perspective are likely to believe that all of a company’s value should be used explicitly for the benefit of shareholders in which case any CSR should be strategic. At the other end of the continuum, it is likely that deep greens would believe that businesses benefit from society and communities and so should contribute back to them wherever possible.
The ethical argument against strategic CSR is that businesses rely upon the support of communities to work for them, buy from them and allow them to operate normally. Businesses also use resources supplied by the state and communities in the normal progress of their operations. Because of this support from society and communities, businesses should willingly and ungrudgingly pay some of that back through CSR initiatives. Companies that manufacture goods, for example, transport their goods to market on roads paid for by taxpayers whilst employees arrive at the workplace on railways subsidised by taxpayers. So no business is ‘an island’ that excuses it from the obligation to pay back to society.
For those who believe that CSR should be strategic, there are a number of arguments that may be deployed in favour. The first is that, according to the pristine capitalist end of the continuum, company directors, controlling resources, have a legal and ethical duty to take actions that reflect the strategic wishes on shareholders. Because most shareholders seek value maximisation over time, the directors must always seek to serve the shareholders’ interests. In this case, because the resources employed in CSR belong to shareholders (because all of a company’s value belongs to the shareholders), CSR must always be in the strategic interests of shareholder value. Second, it is likely that CSR used for strategic interests will be the most efficient way to use those resources. CSR, which is not strategic, can be wasted or misdirected, perhaps at the whim of the person disbursing the funds or planning the activities. When CSR is strategic, it is more likely to be better planned and more effectively configured and co-ordinated with other business operations. Better targeted, CSR is likely to be more effective and efficient than ‘ad hoc’ or unplanned CSR.
Third, strategic CSR is more likely to enjoy the ‘buy in’ and support of those involved in implementing it. Enjoying the support of employees, for example, is usually considered important in CSR and many employees will support CSR initiatives when they can see a business benefit to them. This is more likely when they can see CSR initiatives supporting their other activities such as sales, operations and marketing. CSR can be synergistic with other activities and the support of employees can be vital in this, so that CSR supports the core business and vice versa. Fourth, as alluded to earlier, when CSR involves giving or engaging with registered charities, the company can gain tax advantages from that giving. This advantage is not for the company itself but the charity can reclaim the tax already paid on the amount. So if the prevailing rate of tax is, say, 40% on company profits, then the value of the giving is worth 140% of what is actually given (or the company can pay before tax and treat is as a tax exempt expense). This means that if CSR is strategic, the company can gain more that the value of the giving and therefore gain tax benefits from what is essentially an initiative intended to support the company’s strategy.
In conclusion, then, businesses engaging in CSR may or may not have a CSR strategy. If there is no CSR strategy, there will be no policies or principles in place for CSR and the responsibilities may be allocated to an individual or team below board level. If a strategy is in place, policies will be in place to guide and more effectively direct CSR efforts. If CSR is strategic, however, it means that CSR will be used to support the long-term economic interests of the business.
Written by a member of the Paper P1 examining team
Last updated: 20 Apr 2015