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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach

Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach
By Mark S. Schwartz

Published by Broadview Press.

ISBN: 978-1-55111-294-7

This review was first published on on 25th July 2011


Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach. The term corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often used in the boardroom, classroom and political platform, but what does it really mean? Do corporations have ethical or philanthropic duties beyond their obligations to comply with the law? How does CSR relate to business ethics, stakeholder management, sustainability and corporate citizenship? Mark Schwartz provides a concise, cutting-edge introduction to the topic, analyzing many case studies with the help of his innovative "Three Domain Approach" to CSR. Corporate Social Responsibility also provides a chronology of landmark contributions to the concept of CSR and includes CSR resources on organizations, global codes and criteria, corporate CSR reports, and websites and blogs.


Corporate Social Responsibility, for some of us, may have become a regular part of our approach to business, but the concept is still one that invokes debate about its real meaning, boundaries and scope. Even though we think we are clear about the underlying ethical foundations of CSR, sometimes a book comes along which raises questions that reinforce the fact there is no one right answer, no mathematical formula for ethics and no option but to go back to basics and rethink our underlying assumptions and values. CSR, at its root, is driven by ethical considerations as much as by strategic business thinking. Ethics may mean different things to different people but the need to recognize an ethical question and develop an approach to address it intelligently is common to all of us in business and, indeed, life. This is the contribution of Mark Schwartz' book, Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach. Mark takes us back to first base and gives us a thorough grounding in the different aspects of the ethics debate, which should be part of the toolkit for all students of business ethics or managers of ethical businesses.

Mark Schwartz defines seven "moral standards" that can be used to analyze and guide the moral behavior of firms: Core Ethical Values, including trustworthiness, caring, responsibility and citizenship; Relativism; Egoism; Utilitarianism; Kantianism; Moral Rights; and, Justice/Fairness. If you don't know what differentiates each one of these, well, neither did I, so Mark's thorough explanation of each one was enlightening.

The heart of the book, however, is a grand debate between Milton Friedman and The Body Shop positions on a range of CSR-related case studies. Friedman and The Body Shop represent the extreme ends of the spectrum of business behavior and the conflict between profit and purpose. After a detailed analysis of both approaches, the author uses a set of case studies as the backdrop of an examination of the possible responses according to Friedman or The Body Shop. For example, how would Friedman have responded in the Ford Pinto case in which a design defect was potentially life threatening but a recall expensive? Would Friedman have advised pursuing profits and continuing sales without disclosure of the defect because the assessment was that even if an issue arose, it would be less costly to the company than the profit generated by maintaining sales? On the other hand, how would Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, have responded in the Ford Pinto case? Is there any doubt at all The Body Shop would have recalled all cars known to be faulty? (Ford went the Friedman route and it wasn’t until 27 people had died and some years after the issue arose internally that a recall became unavoidable.)

Similar treatment is afforded to other cases studies on the Union Carbide Bhopal disaster, the Johnson and Johnson Tylenol contamination and the river blindness story and Merck, the pharmaceutical company. None of these cases are new to most of us, I suspect, but Mark Schwartz' treatment of them is fascinating and even somewhat entertaining.

Finally, Schwartz closes with his proposal for a new analytical tool for understanding the behavior of corporations. He calls this the Three Domain Model and it has three core parts: economic, legal and ethical (not people, profit and planet). This model is influenced strongly by Archie Carroll's Pyramid of CSR, but modified by Schwartz (for example, it excludes philanthropy, which, in the author's view, does not constitute a responsibility but more a discretionary activity). This is an interesting approach that could help students of CSR and managers in business understand and even guide motivations for decision making and the impacts of decisions on society and the environment.

Designed for use in the study of ethics and CSR rather than as a general interest book on ethics, Mark Schwartz provides an informative, creative and comprehensive discussion of business ethics from both a theoretical and practical standpoint. Oh, and if you don't know your Kantianism from your Utilitarianism, go read this book!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

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