Criticism Associated with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

By John Dudovskiy
July 26, 2012

CSRThe concept of CSR has attracted a range of criticisms from some secondary data authors. It is important to note that “sceptics and opponents find their support in their assertion that beyond good intentions and turns of phase firms must account for reality. A reality characterised by hypercompetition and strong pressure to cut costs, compelling firms do search desperately for growth opportunities, leves no room for initiatives consistent with the CSR philosophy” (Perrini et al, 2006, p.6).

Milton Friedman can be pinpointed as one of the most notable opponents of CSR concept. Schwartz (2010) mentions the Freedman’s (1962) viewpoint which states that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception and fraud” (Schwartz, 2010, p.52).

Generally, criticism associated with the concept of CSR can be divided into the following five groups:

Firstly, CSR allows businesses to project positive image by doing very little. Such type of criticism has been mentioned in the works of Mullerat (2009) and Aras and Crowther (2010). According to this viewpoint businesses can engage in CSR-related activities in a minimum manner, but still they can create highly positive brand image for the company by publicising their CSR efforts.

Secondly, the level of publicity associated with the concept of CSR creates an impression that the majority of businesses are seriously engaged in CSR-related activities, whereas the reality is quite different. This issue has been discussed by Freitag (2008), Mullerat (2009), Aras and Crowther (2010) and others. Specifically, the authors state that increased level of coverage of CSR issues by various types of media tends to form an impression of all businesses being active in it. However, According to Mullerat (2009) mainly large multinational corporations engage in CSR practices and CSR issues remain to be neglected by many businesses of smaller sizes.

Thirdly, CSR activities engaged in by some businesses contradict with their actual business practices and tendencies of their businesses. Mullerat (2009), Horrigan (2010), and Fernando (2011) address this specific point comprehensively. Above mentioned authors mention instances where multinational corporations are addressing the issues of equality in the workplace and fair working conditions for employees within their own premises, but at the same time, the same companies are actively engaged in outsourcing of some of their business processes to a range of developing countries where equality in the workplaces and fare working conditions within factory floors are not ensured.

Fourth, the influence of large businesses and multinational corporations increases in society with their active engagement in CSR issues. Mullerat (2009) and Tolhurst et al (2010) state that businesses would be in positions of wielding significant level of influence over the various aspects of society caused by their active engagement in CSR. The above authors warn that the influence might also be used for other unethical or even illegal purposes.

Fifth, CSR is an empty promise and it is only an effective public relations tool. This specific criticism of CSR has been mentioned by many authors including Catka et al (2004), Lepoutre and Heene (2006), Banarjee (2007), Cilliberti et al (2008), Johnson et al (2008), Mullerat (2009), and Heath (2010). Such a ‘popular’ accusation of CSR concept relate to the idea of CSR being a pure rhetoric and a passing fad.


  • Aras, G., & Crowther, D. (2010) A Handbook of Governance and Social Responsibility, Gower Publishing, UK
  • Banarjee., S.B. (2007) Corporate Social Responsibility: the good, the bad and the ugly Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK
  • Cartka, P., Balzarova, M.A., Bamber, C.J.  & Sharp, J.M. (2004). How can SME’s effectively implement the CSR agenda? A UK case study perspective.  Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental management.  11:140-149
  • Cilliberti, F., Pontradolof, P., & Scozzi, B (2008). Investigating Corporate Social Responsibility in supply chains: and SME perspective.  Journal of Cleaner production.  16:1579-1588
  • Fernando, A.C. (2011) Business Environment, Pearson, USA
  • Freitag., A.R. (2008) Staking Claim: Public Relations Lenders Needed to Shape CSR Policy, Public Relations Quarterly,  Volume:52, Issue:1
  • Heath., R.L. (2010) The SAGE Handbook of Public Relations, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey, USA
  • Lepoutre, J. & Heene, A. 2006. Investigating the impact of firm size on small business social responsibility: A critical review. Journal of Business ethics. 67:257-273
  • Mullerat, R. (2009) International Corporate Social Responsibility, Kluwer Law International, Netherlands
  • Perrini., F., Pogutz., S. & Tencani., A. (2006). Developing Corporate Social Responsibility: a European Perspective, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK
  • Johnson., G., Scholes., K. & Whittington., R. (2008) Exploring Corporate Strategy, 8th Edition, FT Prentice Hall, Essex
  • Schwartz, MS, 2011, Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach, Broadview Press, USA
  • Tolhurst, N, Pohl, M, Matten, D & Visser, W, 2010, “The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility”, Wiley Publications, New Jersey, USA