Long periods of time have seen businesses sustain success in the visibly competitive world of trade. This success is linked to good governance from the board of management, with support from the shareholders. Similarly, businesses that have performed poorly in the past are connected to the weaknesses of the boards of governors, who in one way or another failed to address specific issues that confront their business venture. The management of corporations is in most cases under the leadership of a chief executive officer (CEO), who is given the opportunity to manage the corporation by the shareholders (Mallin, 2007). The CEO reports directly to the board of directors. While the board plays a critical role in ensuring that the management and the CEO of the organization get everything right, the board is normally answerable to the shareholders (Monks & Minow, 2007, p.126).
It is noted that the test of any effective governance and management is reflected in the degree to which an organization achieves its purpose and set goals (Jensen, 1976, p.4). However, another phenomenon has emerged in the world of business where the roles of business entities have been billed to go beyond shareholder satisfaction. This is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which has been linked with the responsibility of caring for stakeholders in a wider perspective of the global or regional community (Carroll, 1999). Others refer to it as corporate citizenship, with the common belief that it influences all the aspects of the business on a global or regional scale. This belief is pinned on the notion that businesses matter since they create a lot of wealth, which they are required to share with the community under the banner of “stakeholders” (Atkinson, Waterhouse & Wells, 1997, p.25). In other words, the concept of the CRS is a state in which an organization decides where it fits in social fabrics, by addressing the ethics of business, corporate governance, environmental issues, and any other issue within the social context of the society (Bushman & Smith, 2003). But is CSR necessary for the success of a corporation? Or is CSR an obligation of the Corporations? This paper critically analyzes whether the corporations have the role of Corporate Social Responsibility as part of their duty in the wider aspect of their roles.
Business ownership – A view from Stakeholders Perspective
According to some business pundits, business is principally owned by stakeholders, and that any money spent on Corporate Social Responsibility is a waste of corporation’s resources and ‘polite robbery’ from the rightful owners of the business (Bushman & Smith, 2003, p.14). The case against CSR can be traced back to a statement by scholar and business leader, Laisser-Fair. Supporting his position are people like Elaine Sternberg, who argues that practicing CRS is basically going against human rights; the right of owners to enjoy the right to reap from their efforts, hence they are denied the right to property ownership (Werther & Chandler, 2006). Stating that the objectives of every contemporary view are ridiculous, she argues that the right to own a property is earned fairly in a business environment and thus should be respected at all costs (Werther & Chandler, 2006, p.39). However, a view that “ordinary decency, honesty, and fairness” should be at the forefront of every corporation is also paramount in many ways (Jensen, 1996).
It is also argued that corporate social responsibility undermines the very base of a free society (Grossman & Hart, 1982). This is because of the acceptance of the corporate leaders that they have a social responsibility to satisfy the needs of those who have not contributed directly to the success of the corporation. It thus means that the responsibility to make more profit to the shareholders is jeopardized.
Only a few Corporations Take the CSR Seriously
The past surveys of the most respected companies in the globe show that corporations that have not concentrated much on the topic do better than the ones which have concentrated much on CSR activities (Freeman, 1994). The survey revealed that the position of “The Most Respected Business Leaders” has been occupied by those executives or business leaders who do not play nice in the market, hence creating a belief that being good to the stakeholders at large is not
the way to go for success in business (Freeman, 1994). For instance, business leaders like Bill Gates are known to have not played the business game fairly, but still emerge with honors on their achievements (Monks & Minow, 2007). In fact, Microsoft is associated with some of the highest-profile cases of playing ‘big brother’ in the business environment hence jeopardizing the success of other firms in the same line of business (Monks & Minow, 2007, p.172). In fact, Bill Gates has used his huge financial achievements in the market to give away huge sums of money to the needy, at the expense of the competing firms.
Another notable case is that of Jack Welch of General Electric. He played nasty in the business world by a memorable and anti-social downsizing in his corporation and cases of environmental pollution that led to a lot of criticism from the society members, including the fellow business leaders (Monks & Minow, 2007, p.173). However, Alchian & Desmetz (2002) argues that Welch played his part in a manner that would be considered social responsibility activity, especially through his restructuring of the employee status through empowerment. Welch is in records as to have said that making a profit and paying taxes should not be the sole agenda that occupies the minds of the corporation leaders (Alchian & Desmetz, 2002).
Economic Hard Time and Core Business Focus
In the dimension of core business and the need to focus on it, especially during this period of economic hardship, many scholars have argued that one should not lose focus of core business in the name of spending money unnecessarily. Colley (2003, p.213) states that “you cannot go round spending extravagantly” on unimportant issues while you are retrenching workers and the reputation of the company is headed downhill. From this argument, it is easy to argue that the reputation of the company may not be easily redeemed when the very society that is supposed to respond positively towards their activities are skeptical about everything they do in the name of CSR.
Fombrun (1996) on the other hand argues that the process of managing CSR depends on the aspect of managing a business. In this dimension, one can handle it poorly or well depending on whether the managers keep a firm focus on the business goals and objectives. It is, therefore, possible to reason out that time and again it is the corporation’s responsibility to keep off those activities that would attract the attention of pressure groups, especially the environmentalists or to avoid carrying out activities that may lead to prosecution and paying of regulatory charges (Fombrun, 1996). He states that through such an initiative, there would be no need for splashing out money for CSR activities. After all, many observe that CSR can lead to withdrawal of attention towards the improvement of quality, as the corporation will be spending a lot of time and money on building the image through CSR at the expense of improving product quality (Freeman 1994).
Role and Responsibility Conflict
Historically, businesses have moved beyond morality and public policy, hence the need to do what is needed; create an environment for sustainable profit and growth (Millstein, 1998). By doing this, the government is benefiting through taxation, hence the need to create a favorable framework for the proper and fair game in society. Millstein (1998) argues that it is not logical to insist that smoking remain legal and adding a huge tax on it at the expense of consumers, and still act in the name of CSR. In fact many have argued that such activities or actions are purely not in the interest of the wider stakeholders, hence the call for the wholesome illegalization of tobacco.
It is indeed becoming extremely challenging as it is getting extremely hard to sustain the impact of such negative perceptions. In fact, taking an example of the tobacco industry still, they are actually global players, a big corporation that does continuously grow in its global networks at the expense of other locally based corporations. This makes it possible to take a global look at the scenario thus assuming the roles played by the locally based corporations. In essence, this may be the point behind many organizations hiding in the blanket of “small impact group” of corporations (Alchian & Desmetz, 2002).
Environmental Management and Corporations’ Profitability
Several studies have indicated that almost every business idea or a business venture that one may think of has the ability to “shift 1% of its overall turnover straight into its bottom line”, only if proper environmental management is undertaken in a way that would minimize wastes (Bushman & Smith, 2003). However, a lot of business leaders do not positively conceive the idea of spending money on environmental conservation or minimizing waste through specific environmental initiatives (Bushman & Smith, 2003). According to Bushman & Smith, business leaders do not like the idea of preventing the on-coming problem, but like acting after the disaster so that they can rebuild their name through CSR activities. In principle, the solution to the problems only comes after the need to solve an already existing problem rather than acting to clear the looming one.
There is considerable evidence that good governance cannot be replaced by activities of CSR. It must also be noted that the governance of corporations relies on the internal means through which their performances are accomplished (Colley, 2003). There is also little debate that good corporate governance will definitely impact the overall performance of the corporation. Again, while governance of a corporation is comprised of the internal relationships amongst shareholders, boards of directors, and managers, it must be acknowledged that such relationships are a result of respective roles of the government and private sector. This is seen in the way governments manage the laid down regulations, the general perception of the public as well as voluntary private initiatives. It is therefore important to note that CSR is basically an image-building initiative that in most cases can be avoided at the initial stages of company development. Again it should therefore be acknowledged that the primary role of corporate governance is to ensure the shareholders get their rightful control and benefit of the corporation rather than venturing into the image-building exercise through CSR.
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