Communicating corporate social responsibility

Richard Costa, Director and Head of Corporate Reporting at Ensemble Studio.

There is a great deal of ambiguity that shrouds the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Not only is there a lack of consensus as to what it actually means, more than ever companies are also expected to communicate theirs. It’s a riddle wrapping an enigma. How should corporations approach communicating corporate responsibility?

Corporate responsibility, three ways

In the absence of an immediate answer, the challenge, particularly for an organisation, is to identify to whom it is responsible, and how far that responsibility extends.

Although corporate responsibility and expectations of its communication can mean different things to different companies, we may boil them down to three positions:

  1. The first refers to the social responsibility of business.

This encompasses the economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic expectations that society has of organisations. It’s a neat, ‘one size fits all’ conceptualisation that is fast losing currency but has its uses.

  1. A second approach, often adopted in corporate reporting, relates to the strategic response to an organisation’s business environment.

Here, the practice of corporate responsibility is seen as driving the long-term viability of the business, a competitive advantage and stakeholder success.

The idea is that corporate responsibility can’t be off the shelf because it is tailored to each firm’s strategic objectives.

  1. The third, favoured in PR circles, approaches corporate responsibility as something that is negotiated between organisation and stakeholder.

In this instance, it makes little sense to think of corporate responsibility as stable and fixed. Instead, it is conceived as a discourse, where meaning and expectations are constructed as people communicate and act in consequence.


Over the next few weeks, this ‘communicating corporate social responsibility’ series will unpack the implications of communication for these three approaches to corporate responsibility.

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