The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility: The Responsible Business View
There is no such thing as social responsibility: there is only responsibility
When I was a kid, grandparents and even extended community such as schoolteachers and Sunday school teachers never talked about responsibility as being of special kinds or classes. My grandmother just asked, “are you responsible for this?” She was asking whether my actions had created a problem for others, even with the likelihood that I had not meant to do so. It was often a mess someone else was left to clean up. Maybe someone’s feelings that were tipped over by something I said. Or perhaps another child who got blamed and I refused to even consider I could also have been a part of the problem. The question was about effects in the world of my actions as they rippled out through several circles or rings of people and places; out into the world beyond me. She was asking me if I was taking others in account when I took action in word or deed.
To be a good person, I was taught to understand that I lived in a world that was made up of more than me and my own needs. And that the world worked better for me and my family, if I was not totally self-absorbed thinking about my own benefits. This was part of my education and child rearing. It always made sense to me. How I lived was effecting more than me and I better pay attention to that as I moved through the world. It was not fragmented into arenas I needed to have particularly practices for because it was expected to be internalized in the way I lived, worked and played.
My question is how to we get back to the simple questions my parents ask. What are you creating by your actions for those beyond yourself and can you take responsibility for it? The corporation is a citizen by law. My grandmother would demand that they answer the same question. It is not about worrying about solving problems in addition to being in business as Aneel Karnani argued in The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility in the Wall Street Journal. Grandmother would not have accepted any excuse from me. She would have called it a “diversion”. She would have carefully asked me “What kind of world would this be if we all acted like you?”
Originally published at carolsanford.com on September 28, 2010.