In 1953, Howard Bowen, known by some as the “father of CSR”, conceptualised the notion as social obligation: “to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society”.
Bowen’s work, along with the arguments between Merrick Dodd and Adolf Berle about shareholder versus stakeholder primacy in the early 1930’s, was clearly pioneering.
But I would suggest Peter Drucker is the father of modern CSR.
After all, he combined thoughts on social responsibility with the idea of a future made up of knowledge workers, way before anyone else got there.
His essay “Managing oneself” stands the test of time more than just about anything else I have ever read.
This thoughtful article from the LA Times notes that:
“Peter was talking about this in the 1950s,” or long before corporate social responsibility became a formalized management principle” and:
“Drucker’s most important insight concerned the role of the corporation in society. “The business enterprise is a creature of a society and an economy, and society or economy can put any business out of existence overnight,” he wrote in 1974.
“The enterprise exists on sufferance and exists only as long as the society and the economy believe that it does a necessary, useful, and productive job.””
The current debate about banker pay might not be such an issue if we had listened to Drucker decades back:
“Excessive compensation, he wrote in 1974, is designed to create status rather than income. “It can only lead to political measures that, while doing no one any good, can seriously harm society, economy, and the manager as well.””
I’ve been re-reading some Drucker gems as I prepare to begin teaching the CR module of the MSc Corporate Governance and Ethics at Birkbeck, University of London in a couple of weeks.
I’ve got eight weeks, three hours per session, to teach post-graduate students about corporate responsibility. Not much time for such a broad subject.
Here below, is how I am planning to structure it. I’d appreciate any reader comments on what I might have missed. I couldn’t see how to fit SRI in, for example.
Week 1: Introduction to CSR: Theory, Practice and Governance
Week 2: Greenwash, Communications and NGO engagement
Week 3: Business Strategy and Innovation: Social Opportunity
Week 4: Business, Human Rights and the Supply Chain
Week 5: Reading Week
Week 6: Embedding Corporate Responsibility
Week 7: Corporate Responsibility Accounting, Reporting and Auditing
Week 8: Business and Climate Change
Week 9: Corporate Responsibility, Governance and Globalisation
In 2010 I’ll be adapting some of these lectures/seminars for corporate training, as Ethical Corporation launches our training division. At first this will be face to face team or management training, with online offerings to follow later.
We’ll offer a variety of modules for companies to buy access to, with a variety of experts from our network around the world available to deliver executive and management training. If it sounds interesting for your company, please get in touch.