An introduction to Social Responsibility

By Sayed Olav Suarez from Bogota, Colombia.

Translated by Lucila Agustina Norry from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Definition, concept and origins of Social Responsibility are still under debate in today’s academic, public and business world. The spectrum is wide and ranges from the basic concept of philanthropy, the concept of Social Business Responsibility, to the concept of Sustainability, which would be the ultimate purpose of organization management for many social actors, whatever their scope of action is.

Due to the increasing popularity of the topic in the last two decades from various actors of these contexts, there have been some approaches to a definition of Social Responsibility, namely:

ILO: “the group of actions taken into consideration by companies to make their activities have positive effects on society, and which confirms principles and values under which they are ruled,  in their own methods and internal processes as well as in their relationship with the other actors.”

Institute ETHOS: “Companies commitment to contribute to sustainable economic development by working together with their employees and families, the local community and society at large, with the aim of improving their life quality.”

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD): “Social business responsibility is the commitment taken by a company to contribute to sustainable economic development by collaborating with their employees and families, the local community and society, with the purpose of improving life quality”.

Green Paper, European Commission: “voluntary integration, as a corporate initiative, of the social and environmental concerns of businesses into their commercial operations and their relation with stakeholders”.

Social responsibility is the ultimate goal, a spectrum under which organizations seek for responses to a series of common problems of all social actors worldwide, problems which are grouped in three key aspects according to their nature:

Economic problems: E.G. Extreme poverty, market regulation and open trading systems, over-indebtedness.

Social problems: E.G. Public health, education, discrimination.

Environmental problems: E.G. global warming, shortage of strategic resources.

Nowadays, the main challenge is creating an efficient, long-lasting and sustainable interrelation of the effects generated by the activity of each organization in its operation, as the effects on any of these three aspects may have a significant impact on the results of the other aspects management. They may even become risk factors for the organization, their value network and their groups of interest. To fulfill this challenge, it becomes clear that it is necessary to integrate both Social Responsibility and Sustainability concepts within the strategy of organization management as a cross-cutting element, which should be considered in strategic planning and be backed by a series of ethical principles or good practice codes which provides political support and affirms commitment of organization directives.

What is and what is not Social Responsibility?

To provide a framework for Social Responsibility, it is important to clarify certain initiatives or practices which are usually confused with the concept and, although they may be related to it, they do not necessarily respond to the concept.

It is not a Marketing or Social Marketing strategy, although it is true that outcomes from a good responsible management results in an improved image in relation to its groups of interest, it is not the aim itself of Social Responsibility.

It is not only Social Action: Social Action regarded as an investment in economic resources or any other type of resources led by an organization towards philanthropic or social development projects can be part of a Socially Responsible strategy; however, if this is not articulated with the strategic aims and does not generate benefits on its groups of interest, it becomes a social initiative, but it cannot be regarded as Social Responsibility in itself.

It is not Philanthropy: the answer of many organizations in relation to the Social Responsibility issue is creating financial, technical or operative support to certain social organizations (NGOs, Non-for profit organizations), which respond to specific social needs. These actions are considered to be philanthropic and, even if there is strategic philanthropy, Social Responsibility should go beyond satisfying certain social needs of the environment.

It is not complying with legal obligations: Compliance with legal obligations is an elementary principle of the social contract, justifying a Socially Responsible action as, for example, due payments of statutory contributions to workers, or complying with existing environmental laws in their operation area, cannot be regarded as Social Responsibility. Actually, non-compliance with legal regulations means infringing the law, which results in legal penalties.

It is not a certification: Although there are reports, ratings, certifications and certain standards, these are the product of a management strategy of the organization and that is the one which can actually be considered as Social Responsibility. As quality is not an ISO certification, Social Responsibility is not a certification either.

Although it is true that the concept of Social Responsibility as such is not unified, there is a consensus on certain elements, which allows us to identify when an initiative or a practice developed by an organization can be regarded as Social Responsibility. The followings are the most representative ones:

S.R. goes beyond the Law: As aforementioned, actions performed in the context of Social Responsibility should go beyond the mere compliance with the law, which means that the law is the minimum reference for the activity of an organization.

S.R. is voluntary: This is closely related to the first element. In addition to this, coercion to perform a specific activity, although it may result in a benefit for a specific group of interest within a specified period of time, it does not guarantee that it becomes an organizational policy and remains in force for a long period of time.

S.R. should be linked to the business core: For the purpose of optimizing resources, organizations should promote their Socially Responsible actions towards their business core, as the impact generated by their actions on their value network benefits them directly and knowledge of their business activity makes their efforts become more efficient.

S.R. should be related to the groups of interest of the organization: An organization should aim their efforts on Social Responsibility at those individuals or groups who are directly affected by its operation and who, one way or another, collaborate with or are involved in its success. Therefore, it makes sense to strengthen the value network of the organization, from its providers to its customers, governmental institutions, the community on which it operates and collaborators, among other identifiable individuals.

S.R. should provide measurable results: The success of managing an activity is usually attributed to appropriate follow-up and monitoring of the organization processes. Socially responsible actions and initiatives cannot ignore this principle and, for this reason, proposed goals, expected results and the way these will be measured should be clearly stated. This not only represents a control mechanism but also permits generating feedback which contributes to continuous improvement.

So, the relevant question when analyzing the activities developed by your company is: Are my “Socially Responsible” actions really strategic? Do they go beyond Philanthropy and respond to the needs of my groups of interest? If it is so, can I ensure that these actions are long-lasting?






Translator’s profile:

Lucila Agustina Norry es Traductora Pública en idioma inglés egresada de la Universidad de Buenos Aires. Se dedica a la capacitación en idioma inglés de negocios y con objetivos específicos, principalmente inglés técnico, económico y legal, tanto en instituciones públicas (BCRA, CNV, Aerolíneas Argentinas) como en empresas privadas de primera línea. Brinda servicios de traducción en los pares de idiomas inglés <>español de documentos Comerciales (Contratos, actas, minutas, informes, estados contables), documentos legales (demandas, sentencias, escritos judiciales), documentos Públicos (Certificados, Diplomas, C.V.), documentos técnicos (manuales, informes técnicos) y sitios web.


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