Please note: this is not a principled attack on corporate social responsibility. Who would argue in favour of corporate irresponsibility? Certainly not Milton Friedman, whose famous attack on CSR remains a very potent one.
My objections come from two perspectives: the name is wrong, and the history is wrong.
Let's start with history.
This narrative fails adequately to respond to the fate of such cynical cheerleaders for CSR as Enron.
It also airbrushes out the pioneering achievements of nineteenth century capitalists such as Sir Titus Salt, whose Saltaire near Bradford, begun in the 1850s, is now a World Heritage Site. Or Bournville in Birmingham or New Earswick in York – housing developments by two Quaker chocolate manufacturers, Cadbury's and Rowntree's, for their factory workers.
Sure, there was something paternalistic about these Christian capitalists who encouraged improving activities (institutes, schools, church, chapel or meeting house) over perceived bad practices (public houses).
But the advocates of CSR do not deny the rights of donors to pick their causes for maximum and sustained social impact.
What's wrong with the name?
People have been moving away from 'social' responsibility because of the rise of the environmental agenda – preferring instead the broader 'corporate responsibility' to refect the triple-bottom-line of 'people, planet, profits'.
The Stockholm Accords have thrown out the whole idea and replaced it with one word – sustainability. The Accords allow for both interpretations of this word: sustainable organisational success within a sustainable environment.
Then there's the question of sustained legacies. Companies and organisations decline; people die; but a Peabody, a Rowntree or a Carnegie lives on through their legacies. Where are the great philanthropists from the twentieth century? Bill Gates and Warren Buffet head the list, but their achievements will belong to this present century.
Time for some perspective, please.