“The demons that make a person afraid are the hardest to cast out.” – Elizabeth GeorgeSpeare
TABOO is defined as “the prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is too sacred and consecrated or too dangerous and accursed…to undertake.” When a member of a community commits an action that diverges from the standards of accepted behavior, he has broken a taboo. And a severe punishment is imposed.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) enjoys a respectable and ubiquitous discussion in both the academic and business communities. Initially a novelty, CSR practice has evolved into a lucrative profession. It is now a profitable industry with dedicated university programs, conferences, research journals, professional organizations, etc. In the midst of its seemingly universal appeal, there are certain topics that are unspeakable in the discussion of CSR.
In Taboos in Corporate Social Responsibility Discourse, researcher TomiKallio identifies three taboos in the CSR discourse.
Taboo 1. Business is by nature amoral or neutral. Business is a tool. It is merely an instrument. The moral decision ought to lie on the wielder. That is why business ethics is defined as the use of ethical principles in business. Thus, business is inherently neutral. Most discussions on the amoral nature of business are only token inclusions to exhibit impartiality in promoting the moral purpose of business. The conclusions are almost always predictable.
Taboo 2. Continuous economic growth is not sustainable. The heralded goal of CSR is to advance the interests of all stakeholders. Apparently, with continuous economic growth, there would be enough for everybody. This is a popularization by pundits. The projected growth assumes an infinite supply of resources. However, economic growth is tied to consumption. And consumption guarantees continuous depletion of resources. Granting all resources are renewable, the rate simply would not be able to keep up with the rate of depletion. The projected growth only seems realistic on paper.
Taboo 3. CSR is political in nature. Press releases of companies involved in “CSR” activities are primarily for the pursuit of self-interest and the social acceptance of the business. Studies have documented that most companies adopt a copy-paste approach in the adoption of CSR programs. Instrumental for projecting a positive image for the company, this approach is easy, cheap, and less risky. Similar to window dressing, it is a common practice of businesses to perform “greenwashing”. As adoption of CSR practices is voluntary, determining motives is a challenge. And with the absence of standards, the measure of impacts is at best superficial.
In CSR circles, the discussion of the amoral nature of business basically serves as a perfect and safe foil for the well-rehearsed scripts of “responsible” business practices. Acknowledging the inherent contradiction of continuous economic growth is an admission that CSR is but a myth. Inclusion of the political nature of CSR in the discussion tarnishes the nobility and loftiness of current CSR rhetoric and rant.
Many scholars recognize these gaps, yet avoid them altogether. Self-preservation compels them to avoid the risk of breaking the taboos. Thus, CSR is generally accepted without being subjected to scrutiny and questioning.
This is alarming. This is disturbing. This is unspeakable. Sshhhh… they might hear you.
Real Carpio So lectures on strategic and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.