Jonny Gifford: The role of corporate social responsibility in business

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) pervades all aspects of a business’s operations. In an HR context, it includes corporate volunteering initiatives and the provision of staff wellness programmes, but it also goes much deeper. 

It’s about ethical, values-based leadership, human rights, fair wages (at both ends of the spectrum), governance, transparency and diversity.

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In the short term, it can be more profitable to disregard ethics. But there are strong business benefits in rooting HR and benefits strategies in CSR, even though they can be harder to measure than those associated with other CSR strategies, such as reducing energy use.

CSR is about the longer term, creating business models that are part of sustainable business ecosystems, and not just making a quick buck.

A robust approach to CSR helps attract and retain top talent. Research that we conducted last year, The role of HR in corporate responsibility, found that 47% of HR and wider business leaders feel employee engagement is a key driver for CSR. People want to work for ethical organisations.

Treating staff fairly is vital in the longer term to keep a workforce engaged. However, the role of HR in CSR really comes alive and delivers business value in ensuring alignment between an organisation’s values and culture and its business activity.

When CSR and ethics form the backbone of organisational culture, they become the accepted norm for the way things are done.

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That is when there is protection against a reckless, bonus-fuelled culture. That is when leaders earn trust through their integrity. That is when a business and the industry in which it operates are sustainable.

Jonny Gifford is a research adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development