“Corporate Social Responsibility Is Just Good Public Relations”


“Corporate Social Responsibility Is Just Good Public Relations”

“Corporate Social Responsibility Is Just Good Public Relations.”

Corporate social responsibility traces its roots back to the era ofthe French Revolution, to the actions of Joseph Rowntree, a corporatephilanthropist who donated shelter and education to the poor peopleliving in his factories (Titley 2013). With time, several leadingcompanies have adopted corporate social responsibility, and it hasbecome part of the organizational and corporate strategies. However,there have been many debates regarding social corporateresponsibility, especially its relations to publicity. Many businessanalysts have thus come up with the suggestion that corporate socialresponsibility is just good public relations and nothing more. Thispaper looks at corporate social responsibility and considers theparadoxes that are inherent within it. By studying the elementarynotions of public relations, the theory of corporate socialresponsibility, debates arising from the topic and contradictions ofthe same, the discourse assesses the goodness of corporate socialresponsibility in public relations.

Background of the study

One of the determinants of a company’s success is the level ofsatisfaction of its stakeholders, such as the owners, investors,customers and the local community. Therefore, this calls for thecompany’s owners to operate in a complex network society in orderto realize success. As such, companies are compelled to addressissues such as the environmental impact of their operations and thesatisfaction of the community in which they operate in. Therefore,corporate social responsibility is an approach by companies tointegrate social and environmental concerns in their generaloperations. While doing this, they necessarily do not have tocommunicate to the community or even the stakeholders. However, theirmain concern is that these stakeholders become satisfied with theiroperations. This has led to concerns about the main intention ofmodern businesses as regards to selling their image through cooperatesocial responsibility. The argument presented in the paper is thatcorporate social responsibility is all about promoting the company’simage, nothing more.

Concepts of public relations

Public relations are an unavoidable activity in the society.According to Paul Holmes, one cannot choose whether to have publicrelations, but can only choose the amount of public relations thatthey can engage in (Levy 2006). Public relation is practiced on abroader scale by organizations. It has been noted that allorganizations share the rudimentary necessity to interrelate andcreate working relationship with outside people. Organizations mustcommunicate with the outside since they do not occur in solitary.Therefore, they use the elements of communication to coordinate theirbehaviour with people who are around them, those they affect or thosethat affect them. However, the tactic and complexity of publicrelations process is determined by the level of relationship withthese people. The people may be stakeholders or clients, or mostcommonly, the communities where they exist.

To get a starting point to describing public relations, the PRSAAssembly gave a short and handy description of public relations.According to the PRSA description, “public is a strategiccommunication process that builds beneficial relationships betweenorganizations and their publics” (Smith 2013). In this definition,“processes” are a management function that evokes control andone-way communication, “relationships” are the binding factorsfor individuals and the key stakeholders, and “publics” are thestakeholders themselves. This means that public relations are for anyorganization, and the scope of the business is immaterial.Additionally, the administration’s inspiration is not significant,regardless of the fact that it is driven to make profits, engage thepeople in a certain course or any other motivation. The basic fact isthat in order for an organization to succeed, it has to engageactively with the outside people.

Shaw (2013) says that from the traditional point of view,corporations exist mainly to make profits. This money-canteredperspective brings complications into business ethics and socialmorals. One of the dilemmas is the question as to what obligationsorganizations have to see to it that all people are treated fairly,and secondly, how the organization is expected to satisfy itsinterests without conflicts (Shaw 2013). These and other dilemmasgive rise to the some theoretical approaches to acting responsibly,and one of these approaches is corporate social responsibility.

As a theory of how organizations interact with the surroundingcommunity, there are four major obligations under social corporateresponsibility (Harrison and St. John 2013). The first is economicresponsibility. This obligation is the basic human instinct forsurvival in the competitive world. With the exception of a feworganizations, such as non-profit organizations, all others areexpected to make money, or be doomed. Additionally, Harrison and St.John Assert that simple economics requires economic responsibility inbusiness.

The second obligation is legal responsibility. All organizations aresupposed to adhere to rules and regulations, and CSR proponents haveargued that this responsibility is to be viewed from a proactiveperspective (Harrison and St. John 2013). According to them, laws arenot supposed to be seen as boundaries to enterprise, rather asguidelines to help organizations to act for the good of the society.Therefore, legal responsibility is a spirit of good faith. Forinstance, a case of an alcoholic beverages company that sales alcoholto minors is considered. By breaking the law, the company does notobey the rules and regulations until they are heavily fined, hencemaking losses. Given this, a CSR vision of business asserts that allsocial laws must be obeyed, regardless of the weight of the fines.

Ethical responsibility, an equally significant obligation, holdsthat a business has to do what is right, regardless of what the lawsays (Harrison and St. John 2013). The application of this theory isdependent on the views and culture of the organization, and is rarelyinfluenced by external factors. For instance, many companies producepoisonous waste products. It is, therefore, an ethical responsibilityfor such companies to set aside funds and work force to clean uptheir mess. Ethical responsibility is therefore about minding thesocial welfare while doing business (Hamilton and Webster 2012).Philanthropic responsibility is an engagement by corporations tocontribute back to the society. This may take the forms ofcontribution to the society’s education, health, or similarprojects.

Going with the concept of corporate social responsibility, all theseobligations are decreasingly pressing from the top to down. Attentionis turned to the next obligation only after the upper one has beensorted out. This is one of the complexities of achieving fullcorporate social responsibility. Regardless, many corporations havebeen able to address all four obligations. However still, the levelof satisfaction of each obligation differs.

Hamilton and Webster (2012) state that whether or not a business hasany social responsibility is the subject of endless debate. Manybusiness specialists argue that the only social responsibility ofbusiness is to use its resources and engage in activities, which aremeant to increase the organization’s profits, given that they obeythe law to the letter. This implies that organizations are free toengage in competition in the market, without deception or fraud. Thisbrings in the connection between public relations and CSR. Hamiltonand Webster (2012) assert that while striving to gain a competitiveadvantage, corporations have to engage the public, using alltechniques they can, to prove to them that they are the best in theindustry. For instance, businesses may decrease their products’prices in promotional activities, which may be entangled with socialresponsibility. Those who are effective in engaging the publicsurvive in the market and make good profits.

There also have been radicle critiques of CSR. From the radicalperspective, the question as to whether voluntary CSR makes asignificance difference to the public or not is the focus. Proponentsargue that given that CSR efforts are public, they encourage externalscrutiny, hence making it easy to identify problems and deal withthem (Broomhill 2007). This makes the main argument to be whethereffective mechanisms for monitoring and disclosure are implemented ornot. According to Hamilton and Webster (2012), monitoring publicrelations is for the public interest. Such activities exist toprovide the public with information backed by research, touching onissues of corporate engagement and propaganda. This is the debatethat has led many to argue that CSR is just good public relations.

Contradictions of corporate social responsibility

Company governance

Any corporation’s governance is a reflection of its shareholder’sinterests, and not that of the stakeholders. A number of leadingcorporations offer legal protection for their shareholders, but notothers groups, who are affected by the organizational decisions(Hamilton and Webster 2012). These groups include the employees,customers, and the communities are affected by the givenorganization’s practices. Despite the definition that one maychoose for corporate social responsibility, its implications are theorganizational responsibility for the impact of their business onsociety. This led to the formation of a number of commissions toreview corporate governance. For instance, corporate governancecommissioners rejected the idea of multiple accountabilities(Hamilton and Webster (2012). The argument was “responsibility formany is responsibility to none”. This means that as long as acorporation’s governance satisfies the interests of itsshareholders and not that of other groups, the business’ socialresponsibility is to be questioned.

This is what gave rise to the idea that there is need to implement alegal framework to ensure that corporations uphold socialresponsibility. Over the years, organizations have re-organized theirCSR strategies, with the aim of wiping the notion that CSR is notthere just to satisfy shareholders, but also other groups. In orderto do this, the organizations have to improve their public relations,even as they execute their CSR. One of the main tactics to do this isfor corporations to incorporate reputational issues into their riskmanagement frameworks (Hamilton and Webster 2012). Additionally, thishas been set as a condition for companies that wish to be listed inthe leading Stock Exchanges globally. This satisfies the paper’sthesis statement that corporate social responsibility is just goodpublic relations.

Lack of a clear definition

Broomhill (2007) contends that the definition of CSR is ambiguous andintangible. This means that everyone can come up with his or herdefinition. Therefore, for someone to say that CSR is not just goodpublic relations, it would have to satisfy certain characteristics.First, it would have a commonly agreed upon definition, with nosignificant differences. CSR would also have to be characterized by acommon set of benchmarks, which are to quantify the attainment ofcorporate social responsibility. It would also have an establishedset of processes to help the corporations to attain the mentionedbenchmarks. Also significantly, CSR would have a definite andstandard procedure for internal auditing and external scrutiny byaccredited bodies.

Therefore, by not having a clear definition, it can be argued thatCSR is currently undergoing conceptual evolution and that it iscurrently just about good public relations. (Nunez 2008).

Non-rewarding markets

Some of the main drivers of most companies in industries are marketforces and competitive pressures. Some factors such as profits andcapital shares are constantly used to judge the companies.Performance indicators are used as the rewarding standards for theboard members. This provides no evidence that an organization’sshare price is influenced by the lack of social responsibility. Manystock markets assume that a company’s reputational crisis shouldnot reason for worry, as they know that with time, the crisis coolsdown, and its profits are not affected. Therefore, this means that ifsocial responsibility has no effect on a company’s share price,there will be no reason for the company to worry about pursuingsocial responsibility.

Henn (2009) suggests that one way of ensuring that the marketsreward ethical companies is to use indicators such as environmentaland social indicators, and not financial performance. This is thereason there are some methodologies arising in the internationalbusiness environment, designed to measure these indicators. Theimplication of this is that the financial markets now realize thatbusinesses will be penalized if they do not perform well as per thesestandards (Henn 2009). If there is a lack of these standards, socialresponsibility cannot be reinforced by any other market mechanisms.This is the reason almost every corporation now engages fully in CSR,however, with the aim of bettering their public relations andcleansing their images. Some organizations overlook certain aspectsof the four objectives of CSR as discussed earlier, hence making CSRjust for good public relations.

Consistent denial of wrongdoing

One of the ironies related to quantifying CSR is constant denial.Virtually speaking, there is no single corporate manager that willadmit that his or her organization has done something wrong. This isdespite the fact that social responsibility is one of the pillars ofCSR. Organizations that aspire to admit to such wrongdoings must beprepared to suffer financially, socially or legally. According toBarth and Wolff (2009), organizations that fail to accept theirshortcomings, even when they violate their internal policies, cannotput in place mechanisms for improvement. Some of the denials includefailure to show an understanding of the concepts of human rights andlack of analysis about impingement of human rights. In the businessworld today, several companies, including leading industrialcorporations, fall in this category. This response to reputationalhazards relating to social and environmental impact is the reason itis justified to say that CSR is just good public relations.

Evaluation of the arguments

Given the specific examples that have been provided in the paper,corporate social responsibility has been interwoven with publicrelations extensively. This debate, and particularly in the field ofinternational business, all organizations share similar necessity toelate with the people whom are directly affected by their operations.As such, the organizations have to find a tool within theirorganizational structures to reach out to these people and creategood relations with them. The perfect tool for this is publicrelations. Through establishing good public relations, all the legaland ethical responsibilities are well taken care of. Since the basicneed for public relations is building beneficial relationshipsbetween the organizations and the public, a good corporate socialresponsibility plan would be the one that gives priority tosatisfying the public and the shareholders.

Therefore, given the contradictions that arise within the practiseof corporate social responsibility, it can be argued that CSR is aresponse to the threat that anti-corporate campaigns have. As thecompanies have been bound to maximize profits to the shareholders,they have been compelled to ensure that the people are satisfied withthe respective organization’s public relations. Additionally, giventhat CSR enables the businesses to propose market-based solutions tothe social crises that emerge as a result of their operations, theyare able to deflect blames for these problems and keep the companysatisfied. This therefore satisfies the notion that corporate socialresponsibility is just good public relations.


This paper has looked at the contradictions of CSR. Issues ofCorporate governance, business ethics, definition of the activity andresponsibility for wrongdoing have been given priority in effort tobring out the core purpose of SCR, which is just positive publicrelations. The concepts of public relations and the theory ofcorporate social responsibility have been reviewed for delineatingthe correlation between them. The theory of corporate socialresponsibility lays out the fundamentals of the practice and its rolein the society. However, there are debates about socialresponsibility that have given rise to the need to define its meaningand intent adequately. The main issue is about shareholder andstakeholder participation, which is the foundation of argumentsadvanced by proponents of corporate social responsibility, and thosewho are against it. Additionally, there are certain conditions thathave been stated and argued that unless they are satisfied, the scopeof CSR just focuses on good public relations. In conclusion, thethesis statement of the paper, which corporate social responsibilityis just good relations, is proved.


Barth, R, and Wolff, F, (2009) Corporate Social Responsibility inEurope: Rhetoric and Realities. Cheltenham, UK: Edward ElgarPublishing.

Broomhill, R, (2007) Corporate Social Responsibility: Key Issusand Debates. [Online]. Availableat:&ltttp://www.dunstan.org.au/resources/publications/Dunstan_Papers_No_1_2007.pdf&gt[Accessed 13 February 13, 2015].

Hamilton, L, and Webster, P, (2012) The International BusinessEnvironment, 2nd Ed. Oxford, UK: OxfordUniversity Press.

Harrisom, J, and St. John, C, Mason, (2013) Foundation inStrategic Management. OH: Cengage Learning.

Henn, S.K, (2009) Business Ethics: A Case Study Approach. BocaRaton, FL: John Wiley &amp Sons.

Levy, S.M, (2006) Public Relations &amp IntegratedCommunications. New Delhi, India: Lotus Press.

Nunez, G, (2008) Promoting Corporate Social Responsibility inSmall and Medium Enterprises in the Caribbean: Survey Results. NewYork, NY: United Nations Publications.

Shaw, W, (2013) Business Ethics: A Textbook with Cases. Mason,OH: Cengage Learning.

Smith, R.D, (2013) Strategic Planning for Public Relations. NewYork, NY: Routledge.

Titley, C, (2013) Joseph Rowntree. New York, NY: OspreyPublishing.

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