CSR - Corporate Social Responsibility


Corporate Social Responsibility is a cross-sectional concept that affects companies across all their spheres and divisions.  It can be defined as the taking of appropriate measures, decisions, and practices whereby an entity maximises its contribution to society, always bearing in mind: 

  • Human rights 
  • Labour and employment practices 
  • Health protection 
  • Environmental issues 
  • Anti-fraud and corruption 
  • Consumer interests 
  • Accountability 

As stated in the ISO 26000 (the international ISO standard that provides guidance on SR): "labour practices are a fundamental axis from which an organisation can influence the social context. Therefore, the aim is for the company to maximise its contribution to society through good labour practices, such as job creation, respecting working hours and paying a fair wage". 

In the early 1990s, the rise of globalisation promised a rich and promising future for all, developed and developing countries alike. However, this process of globalisation and digital take-off has led to great inequalities in our society. The productive capacities of some areas have taken off, while others live in the limbo of the informal economy, with increasingly worse living conditions that do not allow them to keep pace with the areas that are getting richer and overexploited. In this context, corporate social responsibility is not only a duty, but a legal regulation to be complied with at national and international level. Indeed, big capital and multinational companies have an important role to play as they can promote, but also prevent or even hinder:  

  • The development of public policies or regulations, both at national and international level, that favour a more balanced and sustainable development, 
  • The eradication of poverty, 
  • The right to a dignified life. 

And unfortunately, there has come a point where multinationals and business enterprises in general are beyond the reach of what many states can do to regulate them effectively, favouring the emergence of loopholes that need to be plugged through international legal standards and not by the mere volition of the companies themselves. The business sector is often active in states that are characterised by weak or lax national legislation (labour, taxation, etc.), in order to attract foreign direct investment, even if this harms the country's own sustainable development. The situation described above is even more evident in the current processes of delocalisation of production processes. Companies seek to reduce their costs by extending their production chains to countries that usually demand or apply fewer ethical, labour and/or environmental guarantees. On the other hand, the geographical distance between the place where decisions are taken and the place where they have an impact, together with the increase in intermediaries along the production and marketing chains, leads to a dilution of companies' responsibilities for the impact they generate. Large companies, and therefore the private sector, are increasingly involved in the management and supply of services such as water, energy, health, education, etc., traditionally public services, due to their great impact on people's quality of life. The combination of all these factors has provoked and favoured the rise of the debate on the need (and obligatory nature) of Corporate Social Responsibility. 


Companies have different tools at their disposal to integrate CSR into their business. 

- Codes of Conduct: formal declarations that define the standards of ethical behaviour of the organisations that voluntarily subscribe to them. 

- ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility: international standard that provides guidance on the principles of CSR, the core subjects and issues that constitute it and the different ways to implement social responsibility in the internal activity and management of any type of organisation. 

It is not a certifiable standard but rather a guide with recommendations and guidance on CSR. 

- UN Global Compact: its objective is to achieve a commitment to free adherence by entities through the implementation of 10 principles based on human, labour, environmental and anti-corruption rights. The entities that adhere to it undertake to voluntarily implement the 10 principles in their strategies and operations, and to inform society of the progress achieved in the implementation of these principles, through the preparation and annual publication of a document called the Progress Report. 

- SA8000: a voluntary international standard which aims to ensure the respect for basic standards related to human rights. It covers the following areas of CSR: 

  • Child labour 
  • Forced labour 
  • Health and safety 
  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining 
  • Discrimination 
  • Disciplinary practices 
  • Working hours 
  • Remuneration 
  • Management systems 

- EFQM Excellence Model: It is a non-prescriptive framework based on nine criteria, which can be used to assess an organisation's progress towards Excellence. It is not a normative model as it does not involve any certification. 

Its objective is to give companies the possibility to carry out their own self-assessment of their quality system. The EFQM is related to CSR tools as it recognises that "the best way to serve long-term interests of the organisation and the people within it, adopting an ethical approach, thereby exceeding the expectations and standards of the community as a whole". 

A company can take a variety of actions in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility, including: 

- Making donations to support sustainability causes. 

- Implementing a recycling policy. This can be the reuse of certain products that have been used in other stages of production. Plastics, paper and polystyrene are returned by reverse logistics to warehouses and logistics blocks. 

- Organising solidarity activities to finance community projects with the proceeds. 

- Promoting the use of renewable energies in the organisation and reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions. 

- Promoting wage equity: another important aspect included in CSR policies is that the company should have a fair and equal wage policy for all the groups that form part of the organisation. 

- Working with responsible suppliers who also implement Corporate Social Responsibility policies. 

- Promoting diversity and social inclusion: that is, that companies activate policies focused on the integration of people with disabilities, who form part of vulnerable groups, at risk of social exclusion, etc. 

- Improving working conditions and family reconciliation: offering employees measures that improve their conditions and facilitate personal and professional reconciliation (teleworking, reduction of overtime, shift compatibility, flexible working hours). 

- Developing internal communication: consult employees and inform them of the decisions taken by the heads of the different areas, thus involving them in the work and in the business organisation. 

If we focus on the fashion sector, brands are beginning to offer what the public demands: to know where the garments come from, how and where they are made and/or by whom and under what conditions. In addition, customers' positive evaluations of brands that carry out social actions outside the company's environment are on the rise, the most immediate consequence of which is customer loyalty. 

Since the 1990s, the need to carry out Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) actions has been a necessity for large companies. Applied to the fashion sector, this means that companies take the best of society (people, place, materials...) in order to manufacture their products, and in some way they have to repay the debt they owe it.  

If we understand social sustainability as taking measures that contribute to adequate working conditions, not only by complying with legal obligations, but also by going further, involving the worker in matters concerning the company, improving the working environment and contributing to the well-being of the worker, both inside and outside the company, this concept is perfectly acceptable both in the fashion production and industrial system and in the food production and industrial system.  

There is a growing demand for ethical and sustainable labour practices in response to instances of worker exploitation, both locally and globally. This includes low wages, harmful working conditions, child labour, forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery. 

These processes exist in numerous production systems still today in different parts of the world, in industries linked to the food and fashion sector. 

The search of brands to cover social needs has different phases. 

1. Objectives as a company (appropriate hiring, protection of human rights, respect for the environment in the manufacture of materials...).  

One example was the company GAP Inc. which carried out inspections in all its factories, eliminating almost 16% of suppliers that did not comply with the company's labour standards. In contrast, there was the Nike scandal in the early 1990s when the multinational was denounced for abuse and the hiring of minors in its suppliers' factories. The same happened with H&M and the abusive conditions of its workers in its Cambodian factories. 

2. Pay attention to the environment surrounding the company (areas where the factories are located, concern for the workers, social and family situation, situation of the manufacturing plants...).  

One example is Bottega Veneta, which has taken care to improve the qualification of its craftsmen (residents of Venice) with private and exclusive training, thus contributing to the preservation of the tannery trade in the region, offering employment and, in addition, benefiting its own business with the best professionals in the sector. 

3. Finally, a third level is a high investment in social spending that goes beyond the objectives of the company (it can be sponsorships, donations, or stable commitments to cover certain social needs).  

The case of Inditex can be an example, investing more than 13 million euros in social actions. 

Food companies, in the framework of their corporate social responsibility, are geared towards the promotion of responsible practices in the value chain of their products, which are produced with careful and environmentally friendly processes.  

In this production, it can be used to carry out social actions, using the food produced as a social good. Some examples are donations to soup kitchens or other charitable institutions. As well as organising food collections, among many other possibilities. 

The company's commitment to the environment becomes one of the main lines of action of any CSR, and in an agri-food company, examples of efficient actions are the responsible consumption of water and energy for production, the recycling of materials. In short, pollute as little as possible with factories. 

They must also have a positive impact by contributing value to society. Through actions such as promoting crops in disadvantaged areas, sponsoring charity events, supporting small businesses, etc. 

Another example would be to orientate their CSR towards the field of health. Investing in food research, promoting a balanced and healthy diet, giving importance to organic food.  

Being ethically consistent with their customers and suppliers, collaborating with nearby communities and improving the quality of life of their employees.