Comparison and analysis of corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports of the top five companies ranked on the 2013 CSR RepTrak
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In the 1970s, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was discussed by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman in his article 'The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.' (Friedman, 1970). His view on CSR was contemptuous as he referred to it as 'hypocritical window-dressing' a reflection of the view of Corporate America on CSR back then. For a long time short-term maximization of shareholder value was the only maxim for top management across industries and companies. Over the last decade, CSR has become a more important and relevant factor of a company’s reputation, shifting the discussion from whether CSR is necessary to how best CSR commitments should be done (Smith, 2003). Inevitably, companies do have an environmental, social and economic impact, thereby imposing social costs on current and future generations. In 2013, 50 of the world biggest companies have been responsible for 73 percent of the total carbon dioxide (CO2) emission (Global 500 Climate Change Report 2013). Post et al. (2002) refer to these social costs as a company’s need to retain its 'license to operate'. In the late 1990s, CSR reporting was nearly unknown, which drastically changed during the last decade. Allen White, co-founder of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), said that CSR reporting'… has evolved from the extraordinary to the exceptional to the expected' (Confino, 2013). In confirmation of this, virtually all of the world’s largest 250 companies report on CSR (93%) and reporting by now appears to be business standard (KPMG, 2013). CSR reports are a medium for transparency which may lead to an improved company reputation (Noked, 2013; Thorne et al, 2008; Wilburn and Wilburn, 2013). In addition, it may be used as part of an ongoing shareholder relations campaign, which may prevent shareholders from submitting Environmental and Social (E&S)1 proposals (Noked, 2013), based on an Ernst & Young report 1 The top five E&S proposal topic areas in 2013 were: 1. Political spending/ lobbying; 2. Environmental sustainability; 3. Corporate diversity/ EEO; 4.Labor/ human rights and 5. Animal testing/ animal welfare. Three groups of environmental sustainability proposal topics of sub-category number two (environmental sustainability) 6 2013, representing the largest category of shareholder proposals submitted. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) even goes as far as to claim that CSR reports are '…becoming critical to a company’s credibility, transparency and endurance.' (PwC, 2013).