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A two-speed corporate social responsibility

A thesis discussed at Luiss University raises the issue of the distinction between the tools and attitudes in play in local and international situations

Not just profit. This is a concept that has now been embraced by most production organisations. And yet it remains something that still needs to be consolidated, deeply understood, fully embraced by every company that wants to improve its corporate culture. Especially because ‘not just profit’ cannot and must not mean ‘no profit’. However, corporate social responsibility is a complex theme, and remains the subject of much discussion and literature. Accordingly, it is useful to have something to hand that can provide a simple summary of the steps taken so far. And this is what Guglielmo Costante Salerno’s thesis – discussed at the Department of Law, Chair of Methodology of Legal Science at Luiss University – serves to do (and it is very useful too).

‘Il dibattito sulla responsabilità d’impresa: ascesa, crisi, nuovi sviluppi’ (‘The debate on corporate responsibility: the rise, the crises and the new developments’) begins with the observation that profit has ‘historically been the main objective of business.’ ‘The business of business is business,’ the author reminds us, quoting Milton Friedman, and adding: ‘Taking this blatantly profit-focused vision – and as such, a vision that is also focused on the interests of shareholders – as a starting point, we discover that, over the years, other operators have assumed a key role in establishing the area of activity in which the individual companies will be focused. These subjects, or stakeholders, represent the all the people who, although not partners in the business, have a vested interest in the company in question.’ In addition to this, Salerno explains how it was necessary for the vision of the company and its activity ‘to collide with the increasing role that ethics was playing in economic activities on the one hand, and on the other, with the greater attention focused on the effects of economic activity on society, including by business.’

As such, the thesis travels back through the different stages of the journey that has made corporate social responsibility what it is today, with particular emphasis on the legal and economic aspects of the issue.

In his conclusions, the author provides the following explanation: ‘What has emerged from this analysis is that just as it is true that the future of the economy will most likely be increasingly dependent on the issues relating to corporate responsibility, it is also true that currently, public opinion and perhaps the regulations of individual states have more influence on the choice made by companies as to whether or not to adopt socially responsible models than the international framework; although the latter has deeply noble intentions, it unfortunately still lacks the binding power that stops efforts made in this direction almost all being in vain.’ This is akin to pointing to a sort of dual speed between awareness and the national and international legal instruments implemented on a subject that has in any case become a global issue.

Il dibattito sulla responsabilità d’impresa: ascesa, crisi, nuovi sviluppi (‘The debate on corporate responsibility: the rise, the crises and the new developments’)

Guglielmo Costante Salerno

Thesis, Luiss University, Department of Law, Chair of Methodology of Legal Science, 2019