What is the role of business in society? What is the social responsibility of corporations, besides providing products and jobs?
Background and objectives
In September 2004 the Platform for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility Research – project title “CSR Platform” was established with financial support of the European Community under the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Union (FP6). The purpose of the Platform was to mobilise researchers in supporting and developing excellence in research on corporate social responsibility and business in society issues in the European Research Area (ERA).
Led by EABIS, the Project framework was developed around a number of central perceptions about the “state of the art” in CSR research at the beginning of the millennium. Specifically, it set out to address a number of identified barriers and failures that were hindering real progress in terms of CSR research content, structure, approaches and coordination. Among these were:
The obstacles identified were:
- The fragmentation of the European CSR research agenda, with most activity taking place in institutional isolation, outside of any coordinated national or regional framework.
- The lack of collaboration in CSR research, with little integration of theoretical and applied work, and little inter-disciplinary enquiry.
- The lack of stakeholder input into the construct and delivery of CSR research, despite the fact that multi-stakeholder dialogue and engagement was emerging as a core aspect in the practice of CSR.
- No coherence in disseminating research on CSR issues depended on niche channels, with no coherent framework for strategic communication of outputs at the European level.
- The limited evidence that CSR research was being successfully translated into teaching and educational programmes, and becoming a driver for institutional change
- The lack of institutional support for development of the next generation of CSR researchers, with few doctoral and post-doctoral resources available to those wishing to build a career in this domain.
- The lack of focus and prioritization at the European level on a topic that – without proper definition – would become nebulous.
This gave rise to a deeper concern, namely a lack of focus and prioritization at the European level on a topic that – without such definition – would have the potential to become nebulous. The Platform consortium set out to address these barriers and failures through seven individual work programmes, along with many subsidiary events designed to promote and advance the quality of CSR research in Europe.
Throughout its implementation phase (late 2004 – early 2008), the Platform had as its foundation three strategic priorities:
- Mobilise an international community of researchers across disciplines, within disciplines, across generations and across types of research through the creation of fora for effective and relevant scientific collaboration
- Foster cooperation, participation and co-ownership in bringing CSR research forward between academia, the business community, policy makers and other key stakeholders through the creation of a multi-stakeholder platform and the organisation of multi-stakeholder research colloquia
- Put in place an effective dissemination and integration system to exploit past, current, and future European research efforts, projects, initiatives, resources and outcomes on CSR-related issues to benefit all stakeholders
Through the project, a diverse community of researchers, research institutions, businesses, stakeholders, practitioners and policy-makers from across the continent, with an interest in research, have shared views and ideas, exchanged research findings and experiences from theory and practice, identified gaps in knowledge and priorities for future research and disseminated those insights to a wider audience in Europe and overseas.
Arising out of the Platform are that there is a continuing need to connect researchers in the ERA and to provide centralised resources to support research on CSR and business in society, as an emerging field of research and to promote its quality. However, improving the relevance of research and its usability and accessibility are just as important if real gains are to be made in accomplishing the ambition of the ERA as a centre of excellence in competitiveness and innovation, through responsible business practices that maintain the quality of the European environment and contribute to social cohesion.
The overall approach is intended to have a direct impact on the established institutions, structures and mechanisms by which research is developed, funded, conducted and disseminated. The key to this approach is found in ‘more and better-connected knowledge’, with its base in connections between research centres and disciplines, between research and practice and between research and education. In parallel with the reconfiguration of the profound relationship between business and society, the complex relationship between research, education and practice is undergoing significant change. This is undoubtedly a necessary paradigmatic shift. Only in that way will research fulfill its capability to contribute to a competitive, environmentally sound and socially cohesive Europe.
The CSR Platform Project highlights:
- Knowledge development through CSR research of quality and relevance is critical to the continued and enhanced performance and practice of business beyond legal compliance in the ERA. Such an approach promises a direct contribution to meeting European goals on competitiveness, social cohesion and sustainable development.
- Deeper and broader understanding of CSR issues will support a better interface between business and society. Among other aspects, it will help to shape more robust approaches to the use of scarce resources, delivering improved environmental and social conditions in the ERA and enhancing its strategic relationships with the rest of the world. It will also inform the education and training of current and future policy-makers and corporate decision-makers who will provide European leadership.
On the basis of three years of multi-stakeholder dialogue, analysis of existing research, and an understanding of emerging challenges, it is recommended that the following 11 thematic areas are prioritised in future research across the Social Sciences & Humanities on CSR and the changing role of business in society:
- Corporate governance
- Collaboration, partnerships, clusters and alliances
- Developing and emerging economies and societies
- Diversity and excellence in CSR across the European Research Area
- Competitiveness and CSR
- Practices for change inside companies
- Strategy and corporate governance for embedding responsibility in business
- Managerial skills and organisational competences
- Sector-specific and implementation studies
- CSR and integration in SMEs
- CSR and sustainability
The detailled recommendations can be read in the Green Book edited by EABIS.