Scarcity of natural resources; climate change; corporate fraud; financial crisis; poor labour standards; mental health; unfair payment and gender discrimination may be some of the examples you have heard of under the topic of sustainability or social corporate responsibility (CSR). But what really is it? According to Johnson and Scholes it is:
“The ways in which an organization exceeds the minimum obligations to stakeholders specified through regulation and corporate governance.”
The task of CSR is to prevent immoral practices from happening, which weakens society, damages the company and hurts employees.
Preventative measures are often labelled as ‘risk management’ a term usually linked with that of financial risks. After all who wants bad press? CSR isn’t just about preventing bad practices like corruption and fraud, the real question is how a company can contribute towards a ‘good society’ with ‘good practices’. But of course like in any area there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. Fleming and Jones argue that often in organisations we can see a distinct effort being made to be more corporately responsible, but often it is simply ‘window dressing’ rather than a aspect of strategic management as it should be. The CIPD identified 4 areas of CSR: community, employee or labour, environment and market practice. Shown below are the drivers of responsible management in theory and practice:
What does it all mean for HR? Many believe that HR doesn’t play a central role in CSR, a presumption that may not be entirely wrong. HR employees themselves think that at times they have to compromise their principles to meet business needs. It’s vital to ensure that there is an alignment between organisational values, culture and business activity. On the contrary to these beliefs, I believe that HR does have a central role to play in CSR. As HR practitioners we are the “people’s people”, it is our job to ensure that there is fair employment practices in our organisations. This includes fair recruitment practices, a healthy working environment, fair treatment, diversity, confidentiality in the workplace, etc.
A perfect example of bad organisational practice is that of Sports Direct. After investigations were conducted last year over staff being paid below minimum wage, other appalling practices also came to light. Despite the company’s policy on treating people with ‘dignity and respect’, an employee was forced to give birth in a toilet in the company’s Shirebrook warehouse because she feared for the security of her job. Within the 21st century the working practices of Sports Direct resembled that of a Victorian workhouse. Mike Ashley turned a blind eye to the bad practices in his organisation in the interest of maximising profits.
Gligor-Cimpoieru argued that treating social initiatives as companies treat core business choices will enable businesses to gain competitive advantage. The ethical profile of a company is becoming a key element in attracting and retaining employees. Evaluations have been done to assess the fairness of procedures in recruitment, promotion and dismissal of employees and found them to be only average. Zhang argued that the growth of technology and the increased use of social media in recruitment may be a cause for this. Particularly as it can be challenged as discrimination on the basis that the minority are underrepresented. HR is unable to ensure that everyone regardless of race, age and gender has equal employment opportunities through sites like LinkedIn.
However Ehnert, Harry, and Zink argues that HR can help in achieving sustainability by developing a sustainable HRM system, by attending to the needs of employees to achieve a sustainable and ethical workplace. Maintaining employees health and safety; investing in the skills of the workforce through developing competencies; supporting work life balance; green business systems and being recognised as an ’employer of choice’ are all results of a sustainable system. Take e.on for example, they tried to align employee goals with that of the organisations by reducing non-operational carbon footprint. Car-sharing, public transport and bicycle use are all encouraged, as is home working, energy efficiency and learning & development. The notion of CSR is transforming from being a social concept to that of strategic intent, an investment into the organisations intangible assets.
 Johnson, G., & Scholes, K. (2002). Exploring Corporate Strategy (6th ed.). Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall.
 FLEMING, P., & JONES, M. (2013). The end of corporate social responsibility: crisis and critique. London: Sage.
 CIPD. (2016, December 20). Corporate responsibility: an introduction. Retrieved from CIPD: https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/strategy/corporate-responsibility/factsheet
 Laasch, O., & Conaway, R. (2014). Principles of responsible management: glocal sustainability, responsibility, and ethics. Stamford: Cengage Learning.
 BBC. (2016, July 22). Sports Direct staff ‘not treated as humans’, says MPs’ report. Retrieved from BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-36855374
 Gligor-Cimpoieru, D. C. (2015). Evaluating the HR Dimension of CSR in a Strategic Approach. Theory, Methodology, Practice, 11(2), 3 – 12.
 Gond, J.-P., Igalens, J., Swaen, V., & El Akremi, A. (2011). The Human Resources Contribution to Responsible Leadership: An Exploration of the CSR–HR Interface. Journal of Business Ethics, 98(1), 115 – 132.
 Zhang, L. (2014). LEGAL AND ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS OF USING SOCIAL MEDIA IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT. International Journal of Innovation, 2(1), 65 – 76.
 Ehnert, I., Harry, W., & Zink, K. J. (2013). Sustainability and Human Resource Management. London: Springer.
 Johnson, R. (2008, February 7). E.ON’s Ahead. Retrieved from People Management: http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2013/01/29/eonsahead-2008-02.aspx
 Isaksson, L., Kiessling, T., & Harvey, M. (2014). Corporate social responsibility: Why bother? Organizational Dynamics, 43(1), 64 – 72.