Corporate social responsibility

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Ethics appeared during the Antiquity with the Greek philosophers. Aristotle declared “all human activity aim at some good, and the good which is chosen for its own sake rather than as means to an end is the highest good”. During the Age of Enlightenment, ethics was considered as an apology of the reason, because she allowed dominating the nature. Ethics is thus grounded on theappropriate values for each, which evolved over time until reach the business market and companies.

Since the Brundtland report (1987) then the conference of Rio (1992), companies are more and more confronted with the awareness of a society turned toward environmental and social considerations, the respect for the nature and the human rights with the responsibilities of each with regard to thefuture generations, and henceforth have to integrate them into their strategies, and by the same, in search of profits. This new “business model” is called "Corporate Social Responsibility".

If the Society isn’t well, the market won’t be well and these are the economy and business that won’t be well. (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Walking the talk, 2003).

There arenumerous definitions of Corporate Social Responsibility.

The BNET business Dictionary defines Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as  « a voluntary approach that a business enterprise takes to meet or exceed stakeholder expectations by integrating social, ethical, and environmental concerns together with the usual measures of revenue, profit, and legal obligation ».

The European Commissiondefines companies socially responsible as those who "decide voluntarily to contribute to a better society and a cleaner environment”.

Corporate Social Responsibility thus appears as a realization of the integration of ethical consideration in business (Sautré, 2003); which seemed to be previously only governed by the logic of the profit. However, Corporate Social Responsibility is far from havingunanimous support among authors and arouses several controversies. Milton Friedman published in 1970 in New York Times Magazine an entitled article "Social responsibility of the business is to increase its profits ". This article aroused numerous reactions in the world of the business and the literature to this subject.

In a first part, we are going to analyze the opinion of Friedman, withreactions of diverse authors, which also consider that CSR cannot be linked to the business because it doesn’t answer the main objective of the company that is to make some profit. In a second part, we shall see that numerous authors do not approve the opinion of Friedman, and according to them, the CSR is an integral part of the business, and that it can lead to new possibilities of profit.


According to Friedman, only the people can have responsibilities. Now, he doesn’t conceive the company as a person. So, according to him, « A corporation is an artificial person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities, but "business" as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities ». Friedman considers that people as subject can have resort to social actions,called according to him " social responsibilities ", since people make it with their own time and money, but not as agent of company who would use the time and the money of his employers. So, " If these are " social responsibilities, " they are the social responsibilities of individuals, not of business.” He thus conceives that the money emanating from a company is the one of stakeholders, employeesand even customers if it decides to increase the prices.

So, CSR can be considering as contradictory with the functioning of the company. The manager is an employee of the owners, and his first responsibility is to increase profits.

Numerous economists have published criticisms concerning CSR, and some of them join Friedman’s opinion. Indeed, Elaine Sternberg underlines the fact that « using...
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