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Corporate Social Responsibility

What is CSR?

Businesses are a part of society, and without a well-functioning social environment, they cannot succeed over the long term. At the same time, society cannot prosper if it is not home to competitive, successful businesses. While companies used to be embedded in society largely through national structures, ongoing globalization has made clear that the old mechanisms no longer work. 

In light of these changes, the role that businesses play within society and the responsibilities they bear are undergoing re-examination. Carried out on an international level under the rubric of corporate social responsibility (CSR), these considerations are becoming increasingly important in Germany as more German companies become global players. Given its expertise and resources, Germany’s business community can play a key role in addressing pressing social issues both at home and abroad. Ultimately, the business community itself benefits when society develops in a responsible, sustainable manner.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung wants to encourage businesses to act in a way that is socially responsible. Since collaboration with actors in the political arena and civil society can make it easier to carry out CSR activities, we develop structures that facilitate effective CSR partnerships.

Yet what does corporate social responsibility actually mean? CSR is a voluntary commitment on the part of a business to act responsibly in a manner that goes beyond its contractual obligations. Such commitments become evident:

-- Through the ways in which a company considers environmental and social concerns as it carries out its value-creation processes
-- Through the ways in which a company gets involved to contribute to its immediate community or social environment

Both areas offer opportunities for contributing to society and the public good. The following are a few key ideas informing socially responsible behavior:

-- Appropriate working conditions are important for ensuring employees are committed and loyal.
-- A responsible use of natural resources is the basis for ensuring corporate success over the long term.
-- Solid infrastructure and a reliable legal framework ensure competitiveness over the long term.
-- Fair practices in the supply chain bolster a company’s reputation and ensure stable living and working conditions in newly industrialized and developing countries.
-- A commitment to social and cultural activities and to investments in the public good ensures that a company’s operations are well received over the long term.

Corporate social responsibility is a topic that applies to companies of all sizes, and it can take a number of different forms depending on the organization’s scope, i.e. whether it is active on a national or international scale. What is possible and what is necessary are both determined to a large degree by social and cultural conditions, since there is a difference between addressing societal needs in a developing country and in Germany, for example. The type of CSR activities that a business chooses to get involved in can also vary. What is important, however, is that each business find the issues that relate to its own field of operations, i.e. those that it must address anyway in its own best interest. Ultimately, social responsibility is about managing the societal risks and opportunities connected with one’s own business activities as well as the greater social impact of those activities.

Efforts undertaken by the business community cannot and should not replace political governance; instead, they should complement it where appropriate. Given their complexity and interrelatedness, many of today’s challenges can be better addressed if all stakeholders help create solutions. What we need are structures that allow political, business and civil society actors to get involved, forming new partnerships and pooling their resources and expertise.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung wants to expand the dialogue between the political, business and civil society arenas on the local, regional and international levels and encourage all participants to collaborate in developing strategic responses to the complex challenges we now face.

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