Corporate social responsibility (CSR) represents an organisation's commitment to operating in an economically, socially and environmentally responsible manner. To do this effectively and credibly, the organisation needs to communicate with its stakeholders, eg government, investors, customers, employees, business partners and local communities, and recognise their interests. Many organisations refer to “corporate responsibility” rather than corporate social responsibility.

There has been rapid growth in the application of CSR since the turn of the millennium, and substantial progress in both measuring and reporting CSR performance. CSR now influences decisions in many of the world's largest companies, and it is being adopted by a growing number of other organisations.

CSR is not the same as sustainability, although CSR can, and often does, incorporate sustainable development. Sustainable development represents the process of attaining sustainability. An organisation may have to modify its business model to pursue sustainable development. It may also need to have a good understanding of current and emerging risks.

Any organisation that wants to engage in effective CSR activity needs to appraise the issues that most affect its ability to operate successfully. This synthesis of a complex set of business issues is sometimes referred to as “operating space”. CSR requires the systematic appraisal of social, ethical and environmental impacts. Standards such as ISO 26000 Social Responsibility, AccountAbility's AA1000 and Social Accountability International's SA8000 support this process. CSR often leads to environmental policies and programmes but it can also encompass many other issues, such as:

  • employee relations

  • health and safety

  • community development

  • protection of the public

  • marketplace practices

  • supply chain practices

  • fiscal responsibility

  • accountability.

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