Ethics in Action
Edited by Mats Jutterström and Peter Norberg
Chapter 3: Talking and taking responsibility from a historical perspective
This chapter looks at the concept of CSR, what it means and what it encompasses, as well as how the concept has developed and transformed. In addition to a conceptual analysis, the chapter also includes a historical overview. In this chapter, we distinguish between talking responsibility and taking responsibility. By talking responsibility, we mean how organizations communicate their activities when it comes to ethics and responsibility; by taking responsibility, we mean how organizations work with responsibility in their day-to-day business activities – that is, what they do in practice. The chapter thus recognizes that CSR practices contain both talking and taking responsibility. The chapter looks at CSR from a historical perspective, focusing on individual companies. It depicts the background and emergence of the CSR concept, and how its diffusion and strength have changed over the course of a few decades. This involves a view of how companies and responsibility are perceived in society as a whole. In this chapter, we highlight one significant aspect of CSR activities: legitimacy (see Chapters 1 and 2). The present chapter analyses the cultural and historical background of companies’ use of designations such as ‘CSR’ or ‘sustainability’. We conclude by categorizing CSR into different types of activities. As depicted in Chapter 2, old established content can be presented with new labels to suit the spirit of the times. Although CSR at the time of writing is a strong idea, there are dividing lines that run back and forward in time.
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