Corporate Social Responsibility: Bowen and Carroll
Howard R. Bowen was the founder of the concept of corporate social responsibility. In his book "Social Responsibility of the Businessman," Bowen argued that business was a major force that touched the lives of numerous individuals. Since business was inextricably and continuously involved in processes of judgment and decision-making, many of their proposals and assertions touched the lives of vast numbers of citizens. These included not only employees of the firm but also their families, acquaintances, and so forth. The larger the firm, therefore, the more corporate responsibility, accordingly the industry had in regards to the decisions that it formulated. As Bowen asked: "What responsibilities to society may businessmen reasonably be expected to assume?" (p. xi). And he responded:
"It refers to the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society" (p. 6).
In other words, businesses are not distinct from society nor culpable solely to themselves engaged and absorbed in their self-centered task of accumulating money. Rather, business is a larger part of society and a facet of it. They are a part of, rather than apart from, and as such have to be responsible citizens with all that that entails. Bowen quoted Fortune magazine's survey (1946, as cited in Bowen, 1953, p. 44) as support which stated that businessmen themselves saw themselves as being accountable for their actions in spheres far removed from their constrained business circles. This was the opinion of the magazine and Bowen pointed out that 93% of businessmen polled responded that they agreed with the observation. In fact, response to the Fortune article provided further corroboration of their thesis. Bowen recommended that businesses devote themselves to reflection of their actions and follow lines of actions that went beyond loss-and-profit situations.
Bowen's contribution to corporate responsibility and the fact that he pioneered the system made many later commentators refer to him as the "the father of corporate responsibility." His book and emphasis on corporate social responsibility, in fact, shaped the theories and perspectives of many later theorists. That this is so can be seen from the tracing of the development of the school as detailed by Morrell Heald (1970) in his The Social Responsibilities of Business: Company and Community, 1900-1960. Other important theorists who imitated and expanded on Bowen's position included Selekman's (1959) Moral Philosophy for Management; Heald's (1957) Management's Responsibility to Society: The Growth of an Idea; and Eells' (1956) Corporate Giving in a Free Society.
Bowen's contribution to regular business was immense. He indirectly led to the host of federal laws that were formulated to make industry more accoutnabel for its actions such as OSHA, environmental prescriptions, and the Sarbanes-Oxley that would circumscribe its economic reports.
Another major theorist of corporate social responsibly and one who appeared much later was Bertrand Carroll. In 1979, Carroll proposed a four faceted definition of corporate social responsibility. His reason for doing so followed three assumptions:
1. For industries to follow and to adopt the demands of corporate social responsibility, they had to have a better understanding of what it entailed. He considered it at the moment to be too general and tenuous at best. They, therefore, needed to have a basic definition of the term
2. They needed to know clearly the limits and constrains of their responsibilities and an understanding of the extent that their responsibilities devolved in relation to their stakeholders.
3. The philosophy of Corporate social responsibility and responsiveness to various issues had to be made more clear
Previous definitions of corporate social responsibility had only alluded to the subject as going beyond the raw concerns of making a profit and keeping tenets of law. What exactly 'going beyond' entailed was vague. Seeking to provide more specificity, Caroll's definition in response was that:
"The social responsibility of business encompasses the economic, legal, ethical, and discretionary expectations that society has of organizations at a given point in time" (Carroll, 1979, p. 500).
Dividing business into four analytic components, Carroll argued that:
1. Business represented making a profit and devolving around economic matters, This was the core and essential them of 'business', and this is how the public views it:
Before anything else, the business institution is the basic economic unit in our society. As such it has a responsibility to produce goods and services that society wants and to sell them at a profit. All other business roles are predicated on this fundamental assumption. (Carroll, 1979, p. 500)
2. Business represents a law-abiding enterprise. The law provides the perimeters and guidelines for the industry to follow, and the public, likewise expects business to regulate their activities according to the minutiae and descriptive of the law.
3. Ethical responsibilities are those requirements that the public expects the business to adhere to "over and beyond legal requirements" (Carroll, 1979, p. 500). Although ethical responsibilities are inherently voluntary and not strictly an abjured or adjoined part of the industry, the public expects any accountable and moral industry to follow these requirements.
4. Discretionary responsibilities are the final category and the public too expects these, to some degree, although their descriptions and principles are even more vague and less clear-cut than those of ethical responsibilities. Discretionary responsibilities are those driven by norms of time and country and usually incorporate some selfish component too. They include social consciousness of environmental concerns, such as the facade adopted by the Body Shop or Wal-Mart's promises to reduce their global plastic shopping bag waste by an average of 33% per store by 2013 (Anderson, 2005). They also include the philanthropic activities of a Bill Gates (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (see e.g., Sniderman, 2011), and a Coca-Cola program promising to staunch famine in Africa. Discretionary responsibilities are the least required of the four categories, but industries -- particularly large corporations -- that do not practice them are criticized. Steve Jobs, for instance, was heavily criticized for his lack of philanthropic involvement (Whoriskey, 2011).
In 1991, Carroll revised his definition of "discretionary responsibilities" as a part of corporate citizenship. He suggested that:
For CSR to be accepted by the conscientious businessperson, it should be framed in such away that the entire range of business responsibilities is embraced. It is suggested here that four kinds of social responsibilities constitute total CSR: economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic. (p.40)
He also suggested that these four components of corporate social responsibility be perceived as a pyramid where one rests on the other in hierarchical progression and in ever-increasing importance of value. All must exist for a business to thrive, in toehr words, a successful business must be economically resilient, as well as law-abiding, ethical and philanthropic, but certain levels are more important titan others. Carroll sees the model as being a pyramid in another way too. The economic category of the business serves as the base. Only when that is in place, can the other levels follow. A business has to follow these requirements at all times, not deciding to arbitrarily follow one and exclude others at their volition. In short, for a business to be considered oen that represents the tenets of corporate social responsibility, it has to "strive to make a profit, obey the law, be ethical, and be a good corporate citizen" (p. 43).
Carroll also connected corporate social responsibility with business education by arguing that corporate social responsibility would augment the business performance and gain them leverage with stakeholders and the public. That this is so can, indeed, be seen on a regular basis where business, such as Wal-Mart, attempt to retrench their position with the public and to woo the public by espousing all matters of promises related to social responsibility. Wal-mart,…