Corporate social responsibility: a strategic issue or a wasteful distraction?

Charles Holme (Based at Ethical Executive Training International LLP, Broughton, UK)

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Publication date: 15 June 2010



This paper aims to provide a rigorous practitioner review of the concept of CSR. The paper presents a comprehensive and sometimes challenging overview of the subject. It is about the practice and ethics of a topic of current interest.


Taking a representative selection of recently published papers, the article explores the concept. Questions are raised about whether CSR is just corporate window dressing – or greenwash. Can it be a tool for business development? Is CSR for organizations big and small? Does it apply to government and NGOs or is it only for commercial businesses? Has the current economic climate forced companies to abandon CSR in the face of the harsh realities of the recession?


The findings start with the variation in the subject and how the words corporate social responsibility are ill defined. A structure for examining CSR in practice is suggested by using two examples. Benefits of CSR in profit based organizations are identified and compared with an example in a not for profit organization. An argument is put forward that SMEs may not relate comfortably to a corporate concept. The strategic role of CSR is outlined, as is the limited role of government. Directors' responsibility and CSR lead on to the competitive advantage opportunities of CSR. The article ends with a key indicator of whether businesses see CSR as a distraction or a strategic issue by looking at evidence of whether CSR activity has declined in the current recession.

Practical implications

This is essential reading for strategic leaders reviewing their CSR activity, whether it is from a position of early implementation or after some development. The comparisons and examples are thought provoking. By raising the variations in practise senior managers will be able to clarify their own position, formulate a way forward and communicate their objectives.


This paper is aimed at directors and strategic leaders with an interest in linking CSR, ethics and competitive advantage. The article will also help senior managers to reflect upon their own management style. HR practitioners will find this review indispensible if they wish to lead or contribute to the development of CSR in their own organizations.



Holme, C. (2010), "Corporate social responsibility: a strategic issue or a wasteful distraction?", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 179-185.

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