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CSR and Sustainability – From the Margins to the Mainstream

Submitted by: Dr. Michael Hopkins

Posted: Dec 16, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Tags: csr, sustainability, socially responsible


New movements have emerged, often rooted in religious or ethnic identity. This shift is linked to the wider decline of progressive social movements, the loss of faith in universalist values, and the replacement of ideological politics with the politics of identity[1].

CSR and sustainability issues have travelled from the margins of society and business in the early 1990s to the mainstream today. So have my own interests in those issues. Let me explain—

My path was significantly shaped by the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.  My main interest at the time was in socio-economic issues. I had been working for the United Nations and was worried about two problems.  First, that the UN was doing great work with many highly skilled people, yet had failed to make a major impact on the big issues of our time. (I note that the great achievement to reach the Millennium Development Goals this year was mainly to do with the huge reduction of poverty in China—that, it is fair to say, had little or nothing to do with the UN). Second, my fear was that communism had fallen; good riddance to its harsh implementation in Russia and its satellite states, but what was to replace it?  Was it really Communism 0, Capitalism 1?  We needed unadulterated capitalism—itself having many tendencies similar to communism surprising as that may seem—as much as we needed a sore head with its concomitant exploitation of workers, its quest for profit at any cost, its use of power and corruption to override democratic processes and, as Marx had indeed warned, the eventual collapse of capitalism, too! 

Thus we needed a third way, an alternative that expressed the hopes of humankind with strong social and economic safety nets for the ill, poor, disadvantaged and so on while preserving the magic of the market.  The relative failure of governments, NGOs and the UN led me to look at the private sector in ways that I had not thought of before – as a genuine force for good and sustainable development.  In my attempt to rank the Fortune 500 companies from 1 to 500 in terms of their social contribution, I was foiled due to the lack of data.  At the same time, I stumbled across a conceptual framework called CSR that led to my first book on the subject, CSR Comes of Age: The Planetary Bargain, where I spelled out how CSR could become a powerful force for good and led to what I now call the Hopkins CSR Model (http://mhcinternational.com/hopkinscsrmodel).  The elements of that model in my first book led me to rank the top 100 companies in the UK in terms of their social responsibility (at that time, 1997, Guinness came out on top!). 

I thought at the time that CSR was obvious – what’s wrong with treating your stakeholders such as your customers responsibly?  Now, twenty years, later I have discovered that the basic concepts behind CSR (or whatever it is labelled or will be labelled in the future) are powerful concepts to create a third way to develop our societies.  “Corporate” means to me today any collection of bodies that form a recognisable group. I have since applied that notion by asking such questions as ‘Was the FIFA World Cup Socially Responsible?’, ‘Is the UK Royal Family Socially Responsible’, ‘Do the tools of CSR help us understand terrorism?’ and, of course ‘Is your company socially responsible?’ (www.mhcinternational.com). 

Over the period 2007 to 2013, I developed the concept of CSR through founding and directing a graduate course on CSR and Sustainability at the University of Geneva.  That work, along with some of my lectures, allowed me to create my new book with both a consistent model and with the theme of CSR and Sustainability – From the Margins to the Mainstream: A Text Book

The sub-title of my new book, From the Margins to the Mainstream, comes from a paper with the same title that was applied to environmental issues by Jim MacNeil and Bob Munro written in the 1980s.  Jim, supported by Bob and others, subsequently became Secretary General of the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission) and lead author of its landmark report Our Common Future.  That report had a huge impact on environmental issues, bringing them from the margins to the mainstream.  The two authors kindly suggested and allowed me to use their title in my own work and my textbook with that title as, indeed, CSR and Sustainability issues have come from the margins in the early 1990s to the mainstream today.

[1] ‘Why do Islamist groups in particular seem so much more sadistic, even evil?’  Written just after the November 2015 attacks by Kenan Malik The Observer, London, UK, Nov 22 2015


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