Understanding the Theoretical Foundations of CSR
– Understanding of the key messages of the CSR theories in the context of “A Civil Action”
– Introduction to Carrols CSR Pyramid
A Civil Action was originally a novel, but more people have seen the movie, which was distributed by W. W. Hodkinson’s old company, Paramount. One of the memorable scenes is John Travolta playing a hotshot lawyer speeding up a rural highway to Woburn, Massachusetts. He gets pulled over and ticketed. Then he continues on his way to investigate whether there’s any money to be made launching a lawsuit against a company that allowed toxic industrial waste to escape into the town’s aquifer. The polluted water, Travolta suspects, eventually surfaced as birth defects. After checking things out, he races his Porsche back to Boston at the same speed. Same result.A Civil Action, directed by Steven Zaillian (New York: Scott Rudin, 1998), film.
One of the movie’s messages is that many corporations are like greedy lawyers—they have little sense of right and wrong, and their behavior can only be modified by money. The lesson is that you can’t make Travolta slow down and drive safely by appealing to the right of others to use the road without being threatened by speeding Porsches, or by pleading with him to respect general social well-being that is served when everyone travels at about the same speed. If you want him to slow down, there’s only one effective strategy: raise the traffic ticket fine. Make the money hurt. Analogously for companies, if you want them to stop polluting, hit them with harder penalties when they’re caught.
What if that’s not the only way for corporations to exist in the world, though? What if people who directed businesses began understanding their enterprise not only in financial terms (as profits and losses) but also in ethical ones? What if companies became, in a certain moral sense, like people, members of society bound by the same kinds of duties and responsibilities that you and I wrestle with every day? When companies are seen that way, a conception of corporate social responsibility comes forward.