The biggest contract, by Ian Davis

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The great, long-running debate about business’s role in society is currently caught between two contrasting, and tired, ideological positions.

On one side of the current debate are those who argue that (to borrow Milton Friedman’s phrase) the ?business of business is business?. This belief is most established in Anglo-Saxon economies. On this view, social issues are peripheral to the challenges of corporate management. The sole legitimate purpose of business is to create shareholder value.

On the other side are the proponents of ?Corporate Social Responsibility? (CSR), a rapidly growing, rather fuzzy movement encompassing both companies which claim already to practise CSR and sceptical campaign groups arguing they need to go further in mitigating their social impacts. As other regions of the world?parts of continental and central Europe, for example? move towards the Anglo-Saxon shareholder-value model, debate between these sides has increasingly taken on global significance.

That is a pity. Both perspectives obscure in different ways the significance of social issues to business success. They also caricature unhelpfully the contribution of business to social welfare. It is time for CEOs of big companies to recast this debate and recapture the intellectual and moral high ground from their critics.
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Source: The Economist