Corporate Social Responsibility Challenges In Business Commerce Essay


The notion of social responsibility of firms and of companies that operate beyond their market boundaries dated back before the era of capitalism (Finegold et al. 2010; Henderson 2001). However, the gradual development of CSR that encompassed more societal dimensions had only formed its roots during the 1950s (Bowen 1953; Heald 1970; Selekman 1959). The book written by Howard R. Bowen Social Responsibilities of Businessman in 1953 is seen as the founding father of modern CSR development (Bowen 1953). In his book, he had argued that since large businesses were central source of power and decision making, thus, the behaviours of these large corporations will have both positive and detrimental impact on the lives of citizens. Bowen defined CSR, known as social responsibility as that time as the "obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of society" (Bowen 1953, p. 6).

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However, the significant development of CSR occurred in the 1960s and beyond. One of the most prominent works of early CSR, known as social responsibility at that time, was that of Davis Keith's Can business afford to ignore social responsibilities? Davis defined social responsibility as "businessmen's decisions and actions taken for reasons at least partially beyond the firm's direct economic or technical interest" (Davis 1960, p. 70). Furthermore, Davis also argued that business decisions that include social responsible considerations in them can have long term positive economic impact to the company. Like Davis, William C. Frederick, another influential contributor to the early development of CSR had further supported the standpoint of Davis. Frederick believed that "businessmen should oversee the operation of an economic system that fulfils the expectation of the public. And this means in turn that the economy's means of production should be employed in such a way that production and distribution should enhance total social-economic welfare. Social responsibility in the final analysis implies a public posture toward society's economic and human resources and willingness to see that those resources are used for brad social ends and not simply for narrowly circumscribed interests of private persons and firms" (Frederick 1960, p. 60).

In the 1970s, the concept of corporate responsibility was established; providing opportunity for company to operationalized their commitment to society in their decision making process forming what was known as "the law of responsibility" (Davis 1973, p. 312). In addition, Davis had also commented that "in the long run those who do not use power in a manner that society considers responsible will tend to lose it" (1973, p. 313). By the beginning of the 1980s, the attention shifted to corporate responsiveness. This shift in attention, had provided a business and society framework for management to be responsive to the demands of society (Wood 1991; Wood & Jones 1993). The business and society approach provided an outside-in perspective; meaning business and society are two separate entities, where firms' responsiveness to external peripheral environment was seen as a bridging force (Pater & van Lierop 2006). The outside-in perspective was a close resemblance to the traditional stakeholder management approach (Pater & van Lierop 2006; Mitchell, Agle & Wood 1997).

The traditional stakeholder management within the business and society dimension has a rather minimalistic approach. Companies depend on social context to attain their objectives. However, with the commercialisation of society had rendered this dependency mutual, leading to Wartick and Wood to comment that "stakeholders increasingly depend on companies to realize their ambitions" (1999, p. 98) and paved the direction for business-society management. At the end of the 1990s, there was an increase focus on corporate societal responsibility to avoid the constrict elucidation of social responsibility (Andriof & McIntosh 2001). This shift from an instrumental and managerial approach to a management strategy that incorporates longer-term relationships with stakeholders in a firm's strategic planning had broaden the concept of corporate societal responsibility (Stigson 2002). Firms that incorporate market and non-market strategies successfully at the business-society interface not only experienced moral identity but will also enjoy medium to long-term sustainability (Kaptein & Wempe 1999).

In modern stakeholder management, stakeholders are categorised into primary and secondary stakeholders. Primary stakeholders are direct supporters of the firm and includes employees, investors, suppliers, consumers and shareholders (Clarkson 1995). Secondary stakeholders include local, state and federal governments; regulatory bodies, civic instructions and groups, special interest groups, media, competitors, trade and industry groups (Carroll & Buchholtz 2008).

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To sum up, CSR can be defined as a "philosophy of conduct and a concept of doing business applied by the business community, companies and individual businessmen for sustainable development and preservation of resources for future generations, based on the following principles: providing quality products and services to consumers; creating decent jobs, investing in development of production and human resources; strict compliance with laws, whether tax, labour, environmental or otherwise; integrity and reciprocity in relationships with all stakeholders; doing business efficiently to create economic value added and improve national competitiveness for the benefit of shareholders and the society; integrating public expectations and generally accepted ethics into business practice; and contributing to the evolution of civil society through partnerships and social development projects" (Russian Managers Association 2006, p. 4).

Competitive Advantages

Competitive advantage can be defined as a firm's ability to create value in a way that its rivals cannot (Barney 1991; Peteraf 1993). Performance itself, however, is not a competitive advantage. A firm that achieve relatively high short-term performance levels might not have substantial advantage over its rivals, this is because such gain might be attributed to a good year or cost cutting measures. For example, Toyota is able to outperform its competitors for a long period of time provides an indication that Toyota has some form of competitive advantage over its rivals (Iyer, Seshadri & Vasher 2009; Liker 2004; Liker & Meier 2006; Paine 2003; Wiggins & Ruefli 2002). According to Tan and Chong (2009), competitive advantage are intangibles and it incorporates assets such as branding, reputation, goodwill, conducive work environment, employee commitment and quality job applicants. In this chapter will focus our attention on branding, reputation and employee commitment.


The success of a business or consumer product greatly depends on its ability to distinguish itself from others in its target market. According to The American Marketing Association, a brand can be defined as a "name, term sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competition" (Keller 1998, p. 2).

Brand equity has been defined in many ways, and numerous approaches have been developed to measure it (Siram, Balachander & Kalwani 2007; Srinivasan, Chan & Dae 2005). The concept of brand equity can be considered both from an organisation's and consumer's perspective (Ind & Bjerke 2007; Pappu, Quester & Cooksey 2005; Chaudhuri & Holbrook 2001). From the organisation's perspective, brand equity focuses on outcomes extending from efforts to enhance brand equity, such as achieving a higher market share, increasing brand loyalty and being able to charge premium prices (Chaudhuri & Holbrook 2001).

From a consumer's stand point, a brand possesses equity to the extent that they are familiar with the brand and hold favourable, strong and unique brand associations about that brand (Keller 1993; Keller 2001). Brand equity from the consumer's perspective therefore can be categorised into two forms of brand knowledge: brand awareness and brand image (Esch et al. 2006).

According to Aaker (1991, p. 61), brand awareness can be defined as "the ability of the potential buyer to recognise and recall that a brand is a member of a certain product category". From an individual consumer's perspective, a brand has no equity unless the consumer is at least aware of the brand. The initial challenge for new brand is to gain brand awareness, whereas, established brand are concern in maintaining high level of brand awareness. According to Keller (2003), brand awareness plays an integral role in influencing consumer decision making process by intriguing three advantages. Theses three advantages include choice advantages, learning advantages and consideration advantages (Keller 2003). Customer-based brand equity only occurs when consumer holds some favourable, unique, and brand association to a brand that they are highly aware and familiar with (Altigan, Aksoy & Akinci 2005).

The second component of brand equity is brand image. Brand image can be defined as the types of associations that come to the consumer's mind during purchasing decisions. An association can be seen as thoughts and feelings a consumer has about the brand. According to Keller (1993), brands are linked in consumers' memories with specific thoughts and feeling associations.


Reputation has an existent in the minds of all stakeholders (Van Riel 1995). Stakeholders can be divided into primary and secondary stakeholders. Primary stakeholders include shareholders, employees, customers, business partners, communities, future generations and the natural environment (Carroll & Buchholtz 2008). Secondary stakeholders include local, state and federal governments; regulatory bodies, civic instructions and groups, special interest groups, media, competitors, trade and industry groups (Carroll & Buchholtz 2008). Therefore, reputation can be seen as the cognitive representation held by a company's stakeholders (Robbins 2000). Reputation is highly subjective, as each stakeholder makes a judgment on a company based on their individual, expectations, personal experiences and interests (Dowling 2001; Brown & Dacin 1997).

Employee Commitment

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Before employee commitment can be defined, it is important to understand the meaning of employee focus. Employee focus can be defined as initiatives that help induces positive feelings in the employees towards their organisations and their work (Agus 2004). Therefore, the positive feelings derived from these initiatives (e.g. fair treatment of employees, employees' safety, competitive wage system, flexi work schedules) can be classified as employee commitment (Moncarz, Zhao & Kay 2009; Dwivedi, Kumar & Papzafeiropoulou 2006). In order to enhance employee commitment, the focus of employee satisfaction needs to be conducted on a regular basis with respect to organisation-wide criteria, such as working environment, clarity of tasks, benefits, leadership, training and development, and management style of the organisation (Choo & Bowley 2007; Noor Azman, Mohamed & Fauziah 2008; Powell 2009; Howard 2008).

The concern for the welfare of the employees has a positive correlation to their commitment and job satisfaction (Grant, Dutton & Rosso 2008; Meyer et al. 2007).

The Relationship between CSR and Competitive Advantages

According to Porter and Kramer (2006), firms that are merely concern with out-right profitability can only achieve sustainable competitive advantage provided they also do well in non-profit issues such as environmental sustainability (e.g. investment in green technology). In addition, Porter and Siggelkow had also indicated that firms that narrow their focus on direct competitive market environment and short-turn returns will miss out strategic opportunities to differentiate themself against their direct competitors (2008). According to empirical findings on strategic management, competitive advantages can be obtained through the efficient management of intangible resources such as branding, reputation and employee commitments as tangible resources such as finances, can be imitated by rivals, and thus could only sustain a company over a short period of time (Porter & Kramer 2002; Porter & Kramer 2006; Chiang 2008). Based on research, CSR is seen as a strategic tactic used by a growing number of firms to differentiate itself from its competitors in area such as branding, reputation and employee commitments (Porter & Siggelkow 2008; Porter & Kramer 2002; Porter & Kramer 2006; Tan & Chong 2009).

CSR and Reputation

With an ever changing international society environment and the recent financial meltdown had brought back many controversial, unresolved and highly debatable business-society issues (e.g. the recent BP's oil spill incident in the Gulf of Mexico). One of the mechanism societies used to measure the effectiveness of firm's ability to handle social issues such as labour relations and environmental sustainability is reputation. According to Fombrun and van Riel (1997), a strong reputation was being acknowledge as an enduring source of long-term competitive advantage. Having a strong reputation helps to mobilise support of investors, non-governmental organisations, media, employees and the customers (Fombrun & van Riel 2004). Reputation is a valuable asset for a company as it has the ability to create barriers of entry for newcomers because customers tend to be more loyal to a reputable firm (Newlands & Hooper 2009; Caves & Porter 1977). Additionally, reputation also help reputable firms compete effectively against existing competitors in the market (Newlands & Hooper 2009). With good reputation, firms are able to reinforce positive brand/corporate image in the minds of end consumers with respect to products (Maathuis 1999). Therefore CSR initiatives that could help strengthen reputation includes donations for social causes (e.g. relief mission), free medical benefit for employees, investment in green innovations, sustainable wage, safe working environment, non-discriminatory recruitment process can help enhance corporate and brand reputation (Fombrun & Gardberg 2000; Williams & Barrett 2000; Wong 2009).

Beside barriers to entry, a good reputation with regards to product quality allow a company to charge higher prices of between 10 percent to 20 percent more for standard products (Shapiro 1983; Bramley & Kirsten 2007). In addition to quality and pricing, there were indications that consumers are increasingly taking social and environmental performance into their purchasing decision process (Creyer & Ross 1997; Ellen, Mohr & Webb 2000; Sen & Bhattacharya 2001). According to Brown and Dacin (1997, p. 80), "negative CSR associations have a demonstrably detrimental effect on product evaluation, while positive CSR associations have a fairly positive influence on product evaluation. Good reputation will also attract talented employees when there is little differences in salary and benefit packages, potential employees will seek out other motivating features such as company's CSR policy (McAdam & Leonard 2003; Shelton 1999).

CSR and Branding

The relationship between CSR and branding has a intertwine relationship with firm's reputation. As mentioned earlier a positive reputation allows positive brand image associations. With increase financial affluence, customers have greater mobility to move on to a competitor if a brand image had been tarnished by poor social actions. According to a survey conducted by Corporate Edge in 1998, had indicated that 57 percent of the sample respondent would stop buying a brand that had association with child labour and 21% of the respondent will support action against unethical companies (Rogers 1998). However a study carried out by Carrigan and Attalla (2001, p. 560) had indicated that although "we are more sophisticated as consumers today, this does not necessarily translate into behaviour which favors ethical companies and punishes unethical firms". The study done by Carrigan and Attalla provided support to a earlier findings that indicated that only 20 percent of the consumer survey had actually purchased a product due to its association with good cause (Boulstridge & Carrigan 2000). Both studies had indicated that although consumers had expressed their willingness to make ethical purchases link to positive reputation and brand image but had also highlighted the fact that CSR is not a dominant decision influencer.

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