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What Are the Different Approaches to Corporate Social Responsibility?

By Florence J. Tipton
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Generally, the spectrum of approaches to corporate social responsibility (CSR) includes four separate stances. On the lower end, obstructionist and defensive stances relate to approaches that require little or no corporate action. Accommodative and proactive stances are on the higher end of the spectrum and involve a greater acceptance of being social responsible as a corporate citizen.

The obstructionist stance to corporate social responsibility involves minimum effort to improve the social and environmental impact of the company within a community. For example, the corporation that takes an obstructionist stance may cross an ethical or legal line, such as dumping hazardous material in a local landfill. Its response is to do nothing to correct its actions and may deny wrongdoing when confronted.

As the spotlight on local, regional, and global business practices increases, few corporations may actually follow the obstructionist approach. Typically, there is an expectation of responsible corporate citizenry to the community and environment that supports the organization’s success. Some may demonstrate self-correction and avoid doing something that negatively impacts the organization’s image.

The next approach on the lower end of the corporate social responsibility spectrum is the defensive stance. Typically, a company that follows this model complies with the minimum legal requirements to stay in business. Efforts to exceed minimum standards are often nonexistent unless regulations require a change in business practices.

This approach may also become necessary based on a country’s legal requirements. For example, U.S. tobacco manufacturers must include a warning label on cigarette packaging about the hazards of smoking. In countries where warning labels are not required, the same manufacturer may not include the labels on cigarette packaging.

Part of the higher end of the corporate social responsibility spectrum is the accommodative stance. With this approach, corporations go beyond their ethical and legal obligations to support sustainable practices. This usually occurs when the corporation is approached by an outside organization — often charitable — and asked to sponsor an event within the community.

The proactive approach is the highest degree of CSR. Usually, firms that believe in social responsibility beyond ethical, legal, and profitable motives will take proactive steps to support efforts that strengthen the community. Rather than waiting for a request — as happens with the accommodative stance — these companies generally seek opportunities to support charitable organizations and various causes.

Not all companies consistently follow one corporate social responsibility approach. A company may take a proactive stance on one issue and a defensive stance on another. This decision is often made because one cause positively boosts the company's image, while the other may damage its reputation.

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