Center for American Progress

Understanding the “Corporate” in Corporate Social Responsibility

As progressives confront the problems of the twenty-first century, be they global poverty and increasing income inequality, the scourge of HIV and other diseases, educational disparities, or climate change, an increasingly popular strategy is to enlist corporations in the effort. Even as some progressives continue to launch attacks on corporate misbehavior, often excoriating corporations for causing and exacerbating the world’s greatest ills, many progressives also understand that corporations can be part of the solution, not just the problem.

The growing popularity of corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) is premised on the belief that modern corporations have the financial resources, human capital, and global influence to advance progressive causes. And though corporations themselves initiate CSR voluntarily—whether to add value to the company’s brand, attract targeted consumers, forestall regulation, or develop a particular corporate culture—a significant fraction of CSR is a response to political and consumer campaigns by progressives. Indeed, progressives have invested considerable energy and resources to target corporations as potential agents for change.

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