Businesses will be socially responsible if it pays

Businesses will be socially responsible if it pays
Published: 14 January 2005

The winner of this year’s Guardian/Ashridge Business School MBA essay competition rejects any suggestion that companies are increasingly socially responsible. Corporate social responsibility may be a company PR manager’s cause du jour; it may even win a few brownie points within the community. But, according to MBA student Nick Tilston, it is simply not taken seriously by most businesses.

His award-winning essay is entitled Corporate Social Responsibility Doesn’t Matter - Business Profits Do. "The problem," he says, "is that much of what is passed off as stakeholder responsibility and CSR is merely an exercise in PR in order to keep fractious pressure groups at bay." Profits will always be important, he contends, but the trick will be to convince companies that the bottom line can be aided by an ethical approach. The key is to ask "not how we make businesses more ethical but how we can encourage businesses to pursue socially progressive activities in their own interests".

Tilston, a management consultant for the past eight years at Plato consulting in Glasgow, and now doing an MBA at Strathclyde Business School part time, concludes that there is "no point" appealing to a corporate conscience because it isn’t there. "They have got to be shown that there is a link between profit and CSR. It’s about being practical and realistic about what is possible."