The Cadbury chocolate brand name is well-known around the world. The company sells in excess of 300 million chocolate bars annually in the UK and Ireland alone. In 2009, as part of their ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR), Cadbury began a fairtrade initiative with 48,000 cocoa growers in Ghana. Through the farmer-owned cocoa growing co-operative Kuapa Kokoo (literally ‘good cocoa farmer’ in Twi, a local language), this extra income has empowered the local community and has given them the ability to fund many projects. These include alternative income schemes, primary school classrooms and day-care centres, wells and sanitation, health programs, employment training programs, warehouses and corn mills. This is very much our current view of CSR, with a company acting voluntarily as a good corporate citizen.

Anyone who has lived in the Midlands of the United Kingdom, will be aware of the Bournville chocolate factory near Birmingham, where the Cadbury family moved their expanding business in 1879. I remember being driven passed the gates as a child and imagining what goodies lay beyond. Yet what may not be so familiar, is that the early roots of CSR can be found in the business practices of the ‘Quaker Capitalists’, such as the Cadbury brothers in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The greenfield site they chose was known as the ‘factory in a garden’, and they formed part of a new paradigm in industrial relations and employee welfare that included works committees, medical care, pension funds, education and training, and housing. Indeed, for the brothers, Quaker business ownership came ‘with a deep sense of responsibility and accountability to those involved’ (Cadbury, 2010).

CSR is the continuous commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development, while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families, as well as that of the local community and society at large.— World Business Council for Sustainable Development

The modern concept of ‘corporate social responsibility’ can be traced back to the post-war period of the 1950s (Bowen, 1953). The area has developed steadily since then and more recently, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (2000) has defined CSR as ‘a continuous commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development, while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families, as well as that of the local community and society at large’. Individual company CSR involves the voluntary integration of social, environmental and economic concerns into a company’s values and culture. This can be incorporated into business practice and is reflected in company policy, strategy, decision-making and operations.

Supporters of CSR describe the most important corporate drivers as: (i) obtaining competitive advantage, (ii) maintaining stable work environments, (iii) managing external perceptions and (iv) keeping employees happy. However, these only address the ‘business case’ for CSR and broader actions that exercise ethical and altruistic objectives extending beyond legal responsibilities and strategic outcomes may also be included in CSR. Given the potential breadth of issues involved, the development of CSR policy and practice, particularly for smaller companies can be daunting. One of the key challenges for implementation is that best practice management systems for applying CSR are currently not available and there are no internationally recognized CSR standard for benchmarking efforts. It should be noted that ISO 26000 does not contain requirements and therefore, in contrast to typical ISO management system standards, is not certifiable. However, it does offer substantial guidance on core subjects and issues of social responsibility, including fair operating, environmental and labour practices, all of which are often taken for granted in developed countries.

Recent developments in Canada with the proposal of CIDA support of CSR for the Canadian mining industry have created some polarized viewpoints, from public-private partnerships offering a new model for success in international development, to an irresponsible use of public funds that ignores serious governance, social and environmental issues in countries hosting Canadian mining companies.

In South Africa (SA), the mining industry has had a complex and sometimes painful history with society and its workforce, and recent events during the Lonmin and Amplats miners’ strikes, sadly show that this continues today. However, despite this history, the progression of the CSR discourse with the mining industry can be traced through the development of South Africa through the twentieth century. As early as 1955, the Anglo American founder, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer said, ‘The aim of this group is, and will remain, to make profits for our shareholders, but to do it in such a way as to make a real and lasting contribution to the communities in which we operate’. Thus the SA mining industry appeared to be ahead of the curve with respect to voluntary initiatives focused towards sustainable environmental and social development.

The CSR movement has already led to some radical changes in the private sector’s relationship with the state and civil society in developing countries, and the emergence of new approaches to business-society relations. Large companies now recognize that improving impacts and addressing wider societal and environmental challenges to communities is now crucial to their long-term global success. Although the coupling of CSR and international development appears to be a new paradigm, the roots of the concept are obviously much older and have established credentials. What could be new for industry is that global companies may find that CSR becomes less and less voluntary; CSR is currently finding support at various political levels and although the environment in many countries is very different to that of South Africa, it appears to be inevitable that governance and state-led CSR initiatives will become more tightly entwined over time.

If you have any comments, reflections or questions about this blog post, we would like to hear from you.