“Clearly, within this framework, social good is only an incidental by-product of CSR,” Prasad claims.
Studies on “greenwashing” have focused attention on how corporations convey a green image, perhaps by undertaking some highly visible campaign, but without applying the lessons of environmentalism to their business processes. This leads to criticism that CSR is nothing more than a public relations invention with the intention of strategically manipulating consumers, until paradoxes are sorted out over corporate governance, ethical stances, denial of wrongdoing, human rights compliance and the priority given to social responsibility.
Prasad argues, that to be ethical, CSR and corporate marketing must include multiple perspectives, particularly those from marginalised stakeholders. “In other words, corporations will need to surrender some of their power to their external stakeholders for CSR to be consequential and effective and not consolidate their authority by using marketing to engender a false consciousness of ideology,” he says.
ACCSR’s Black points out that CSR is voluntary and goes beyond compliance – its basis is aspirational, although it's nice when it becomes compliance. It is looking to the better and the best way, instead of the minimum, as demanded by compliance.
“The moment you make it a requirement it becomes compliance,” she says. “I am not in favour of mandatory CSR, but that is not to say compliance will not be required over time. The Australian Securities Exchange added to its corporate governance guidelines to ask companies to report on diversity in organisations. This is soft compliance. Ten years ago, CSR became part of the Global Reporting Initiative and some companies have been doing something about it since then.”
Black sides with competition strategist Michael Porter, who believes that despite trade-offs between short-term profitability and social or environmental goals, there are long-term opportunities for competitive advantage in building a social-value proposition into corporate strategy. The number of those adopting this may seem small, but the bigger and more influential companies and organisations are doing it.
“Unlike critical management theorists, these companies and organisations are working in the real world, towards a sustainable future,” Black says.