The original article has been abridged.
One of the least researched, yet strategically important issues in the emerging field of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the relationship between CSR and the public policy frameworks or governance context within which companies are operating- locally, nationally and globally.
CSR can be defined as the way a company manages its overall impacts on and contributions to society through the following three spheres of corporate influence.
(i) Core business operations and investments- including the company’s governance mechanisms and its activities and relationships in the workplace, the marketplace, and along its value chain, be it local or global. The main contribution that any company can make to society is through its core business activities in a profitable, productive, ethical and responsible manner. The key goal should be to minimize and account for any negative impacts that may arise from these activities, and to increase and leverage positive impacts and contributions.
(ii) Strategic philanthropy and community investment- aimed at mobilizing not only money, but also the company’s people, products and premises to help support and strengthen local communities and non-profit partners, preferably in a manner that is aligned with the company’s core areas of competence and interest.
(iii) Public policy dialogue, advocacy and institution building- efforts by companies, either on an individual or collective basis, to account for their interactions with government, and where relevant, to participate in public policy dialogues and advocacy platforms and to help governments build public capacity, strengthen institutions and deliver public goods.
Although specific impacts and contributions in these three areas will vary depending on the company, industry section and location in question, all three spheres of influence are relevant for the majority of companies, especially large corporations. While much attention has been focused on the first two areas outlined above, relatively little attention has been paid to the third area by either proponents or critics of CSR.
This is the case even in terms of exploring the relationship between corporate responsibility and traditional business lobbying, political campaign finance, payment of taxes and government relations, let alone new approaches to influencing or addressing public issues such as public-private partnerships, charters and covenants between governments and business groups, multi-stakeholder policy consultation structures, and new governance and accountability mechanisms.