Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility: Some Issues Arising

Jacquie L T~tang

ABSTRACT. The paper questions current assumptions about the benefits of corporate social responsibility and the

claims that corporations make on behalf of their corporate social responsibility programmes. In particular, the paper suggests that the use of corporate social responsibility for public relations ends raises moral problems over the motivation of corporations. The paper cautions that the justifications which corporations employ may either be immoral or inaccurate with regard to the empirical evidence gained from a small-scale qualitative study carried out i, the UK at a time when the practice of corporate social responsibility was expanding quickly (1989). It is noticeable, in retrospect, that great emphasis is placed upon environmental rather than social responsibility. This implies that organisations are primarily reactive in their development of corporate social responsibility"programmes and that they respond to external pressures rather than working out the nature of their corporate responsibilities. It might suggest that corporations only take such actions when they feel compelled to do so by consumerist and environmentalist lobbies. The paper argues that corporations do need to find moral justifications for their moral activities and to ensure that corporate social responsibility practice lives up to the claims made by public relations practitioners. The paper explores the nature of public relations and illustrates how its responsibility for corporate social responsibility extends beyond truthfulness in publicity.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the links
Jacquie L'Etang has postgraduate degrees in histor); public relations, and social justice. She is a lecturer in public relations at the University of &irling, &otland, teaching on the M.Sc. in Public Relations full-time and distance learning courses. She teaches design and editorial management, communications, and business ethics. Her reseair'ch interests are in corporate social responsibilit)~ and the history of public relations.

between corporate social responsibility and public relations from an ethical perspective, and to question current assumptions. In America, corporate sociaI responsibility has long been seen as a practice which benefits both society and business and, increasingly, this view is predominating in the UK where the majority of corporate social responsibility- programmes were begun in the 1980s. Because of this perception of benefit to society through mutually beneficial programmes initiated by business, little, if any attention has been paid to the ethical underpinning of such corporate social responsibility programmes. This paper takes up that challenge and offers a Kantian critique of the current practice of corporate social responsibility and, particularly, of the role that public relations plays in its implementation. The paper begins by discussing definitions and the role and scope of public relations and then goes on to discuss in some detail its relationship with corporate social responsibility. The premiss of the paper is that public relations and corporate social responsibility are not separate activities which should be evaluated separately but that all too often the two activities are interconnected in such a way that corporate social responsibility becomes a tool for public relations. Once one is clear about this relationship, it is possible to analyse the moral implications entailed. Small-scale empirical research was carried out in the UK in 1989 to review existing practice. Twelve major companies in the consumer and industrial sectors known to be active in the field were approached individually for information about their activities in the field. Questions were not structured as a formal questionnaire because many of the companies approached had participated at a recent conference at the University of Stirling and so in

Journat of Business Ethics 13:1 t 1--123, 1994. © 1994 KIuwerAcademicPublishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

Definitions of public relations summarise the activity as planned.. Equally. It is now increasingly becoming. and being seen as. The public relations practitioner must scan external and internal environments to determine the connections his or her organization makes and then . These perceptions can be classified into key issues and 'publics' and prioritized according to their importance to the organization. the findings informed the scope and direction of this paper.112 Jacquie L 'Etang research results are not reported directly. many cases the researcher already had some knowledge of companies' activities in the field and the purpose of the questions was to probe and seek deeper evaluative information about particular aspects of programmes. The world needs a group of communicators and interpreters . The term 'public' in this context defines a homogenous group within a heterogenous society which has something in common such as their involvement with. perhaps because the role of public relations has evolved so rapidly in recent history. Some supplementary telephone interviews were also conducted. . its commitment and evaluation procedures.. It was hoped that the replies would give an indication of the moral sensibility of the organization as judged by the nature and extent of the communicaton about moral issues that took place within the organization. to guide them in setting their policies wisely for the common good. these interpreters must provide their employers with knowledge of what others are thinking. individuals and governments m others in a socially responsible manner. a management function. The following is a representative sample of questions asked: • How and why did the company develop a corporate social responsibility programme? • How does the company decide how much to give and how does it decide whether to give in cash or kind? • Is the corporate social responsibility programme closely related to other public relations policies? • To what extent is the corporate social responsibility programme determined by judgements about which policy will achieve maximum goodwill as opposed to judgements regarding the benefit for the recipient? • How do you decide between competing recipients? • How does the company evaluate its programme? • What sort of publicity has the company received and how has it achieved this? • How much publicity does the programme receive? • How important is media coverage to the internal justification of the programme? The questions were designed to elicit information about the organization's rationale in undertaking corporate social responsibility. a particular issue. The notion of mutuality and the role of the public relations practitioner as conduit for effective communication are key. . ) Such a definition implies a close relationship with senior management in which the public relations practitioner counsels management with regard to the external perceptions of the organization. It was from these that a number of themes emerged for analysis. or sensitivity to. This two-way responsibility is a challenging aspect of the public relations practitioner's role. 2 The role of public relations is to identify such groups and the nature of the relationships the organisation has with them. since they challenge the perception of public relations as a manipulative operation. who can explain the goals and methods of organisations. . A further source of useful information was the various promotional brochures and leaflets produced by companies about their social programmes: These were subsequently monitored for changes and additions. some of which are discussed in this paper. Most definitions locate public relations practitioners in the service of management in organisations but also bearing wider responsibilities. Statistically the sample was both small and unrepresentative .only companies known to be active in the field were approached.. deliberate communication directed towards target publics with the purpose of achieving an 'understanding'. While the T h e role o f p u b l i c relations: definitions a n d debates There are literally hundreds of definitions of public relations.

. for instance. aims of scheme. One of the ways it might be argued that public relations practitioners meet these obligations is through programmes o f corporate social responsibility'. For example. For example. policy.. media coverage is not important . we focus very clearly on a number of" issues to ensure that we make an impact rather than trying to cover the whole field ..Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility has also to determine ways o f analysing how" the organization is perceived through these connections• Understanding the views and orientation of a potential 'receiver' o f information is central to persuasive communication. .6 A representative of Kingfisher. It implies an objective stance and adherence to a professional set o f ethics designed .. those of influence in the community know of our activities. the UK holding company has written of their activities that. .. defines and emphasises the responsibility of management to serve the public interest 4 Such a definition implies a substantial ethical role beyond that of advocate or representative for a particular organization. . For example. be drawn between them: if this is not feasible then it may well be the case that criticism of the morality of one venture invariably implicates the other. . 1! 3 to maximise the public good.3 Other definitions are more demanding and explicit regarding public relations' moral obligation to society. time schedule and visibility for X. . It may be argued that corporate social responsibility and public relations are two separate actions which should be evaluated independently. It interprets and speaks for the public to otherwise unresponsive organizations. . one major financial institution separates the functions in that it has charitable foundations to which it contributes but the work of these is not managed or publicised by the institution. Public relations personnel can help activate the organization's social conscience. However. Corporate social responsibility is often managed by public relations practitioners for public relations ends and therefore corporate social responsibility" is seen as part of the public relations portfolio and a technique to establish relations with particular groups (for example in the local community) and to signal messages to other groups in society... it is viral for m y purpose in this paper to focus on the interface between public relations and corporate social responsibility and to establish whether a distinction can. the increased status and influence of public relations does imply increased responsibility because of the greater chance to influence and shape communications and. as wetl as speaking for those organisations to the public• . Such developments have already been acknowledged and some definitions do suggest a specific ethical responsibility for the role of public relations towards society. .e. Public relations . one major oil company contacted stated that. . ~Public relations is a means for the public to have its desires and interests felt by the institutions in our society-. . By performing such an analytical role the public relations practitioner becomes valuable to senior management and thus moves into the 'counselling' role most closely associated with the public affairs function. this is the exception rather than the rule.~ in our corporate programme and our different operating companies we attempt to build up a leadership position in particular . writing about its own activities reported that.. . the Public Relations Society of America's (PRSA) Task Force on the Stature and Role of Public Relations formulation emphasised concepts of mutuality and social obligation in the following words: • .. criteria include target audience. indeed.we prefer to make sure that the right people i.s Another oil company. Public relations is a means to achieve mutual adjustment between institutions and groups establishing smoother relationships that benefit the public• . However. In this way public relations is performing a very different role to the commonly perceived notion of the media relations practitioner who simply distributes information after a decision has been taken at a higher level.. Hence..• we are very clear about the target audience we are trying to reach through our social responsibility poJicies and programmes . x evaluates its corporate social responsibility progranmaes by setting clear criteria for each projeci: . . in fact. • . . . • . . . .

It is not. shapes or manipulates those who receive the communication. It implies change both in the organization and in its publicJ 1 Public relations can be seen to be a dynamic function and this quality is illustrated in the following definition: • . involves the management of problems or issues.10 The two-way symmetric model is characterised by dialogue between an organization and its publics in an attempt to achieve mutual understanding. This theoretical concept expresses both the role of public relations and also its state of historical development not only in different organizations but in different actions/campaigns. the latter perception of the public relations role is quite common and is dependent on a particular view about the role and nature of public relations. is what the models imply about the nature and purpose of the communication process both in directional terms and also in terms of verity. .helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public opinion... The last two definitions express the relationship between an organization and its publics entirely in terms of the type and direction of communication . understanding. Grunig and Hunt 9 have developed a typology which explains different models of public relations in terms of the historical development of the function.114 Jacquie L 'Etang flow. I shall now explore the reasons for this view and put it in historical context before going on to argue that it is an outdated concept which also allows public relations to escape from its responsibilifes. therefore a question of the corporate management choosing a policy of corporate social responsibility (say of community activities) and then the public relations person communicating the policy or actions. I shall then go on to pursue in detail the role of public relations in corporate social responsibility and explain why I think ethical problems arise. These are press agentry/publicity. This would assume a definition of public relations as a set of communications techniques. The purpose of the public information model is to disseminate information in the way that government or non-profit organizations might about their activities. In order to distinguish public relations from propaganda some writers 8 have focused on the concept of two-way communication as that which distinguishes public relations from propaganda. The two-way asymmetric model is so-called because it attempts to incorporate concepts of feedback into its framework so that the source can adapt its message more appropriately to the receiver(s). helps management to keep abreast of and effectively areas which amount to a 'competitive edge' with target audiences• . however. Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication... The press-agentry/publicity role is defined in Grunig and Hunt's typology as being one-way communication which serves a propaganda function relying on half-truths and exaggeration to propagate a particular belief. Of particular significance to corporate social responsibility.. acceptance and co-operation between an organization and its publics. Examples of the results of this type of public relations appear in tabloid newspapers in the UK and are often achieved by publicists in the UK for would-be 'stars'. The nature o f public relations One of the key issues in public relations is that of the direction of the communication and the extent to which this informs. . generally the only way they do that is by telling management what the public will accept• They do not tell management how to change to please the public. public relations practitioners may be responsible for proposing corporate social responsibility activities and identifying the relevant 'publics'. Grunig and Hunt categorise this role as propaganda since complete truth is not regarded as essential by those who practise this form of public relations. two-way asymmetric and two-way symmetric. In this model truthfulness is of importance but the flow of information is one-way. .. practitioners of this model claim to advocate the public's view inside the organization. while.7 Consequently. However. As Grunig and Hunt point out. Such publicity can rightly be called 'puffery'. public information. In other words public relations practitioners may be directly involved in policy formulation and therefore partially responsible for corporate social responsibility programmes.

In other words. the roles defined by Grunig and Hunt suggest different and potentially conflicting relationships for the public relations practitioner when dealing with varied publics in society. some into another. A systems perspective sees the organization interrelating with a number of different interrelated and interacting environments (and publics) to which the organization must adapt and accommodate to maintain homeostasis.'woway symmetric model. corporate social responsibility can be seen as a result of organizations responding to criticisms of corporations in the late '60s and early '70s. This was certainly the case with the oil company cited earlier which was carrying out programmes with one public with a view to impressing another. and uses research and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools. public relations can be seen as an adaptive subsystem within the organization functioning as communicator between the environment and the organization and helping the organization to adjust and adapt to its environment. 115 Corporate social responsibility and public relations Corporate social responsibility has become important to public relations because such programmes offer the opportunity to build good will by promoting the benefits of the company to its stakeholders.. My argument here suggests that at present communications about corporate sociai responsibility do not often fall into the ideal 1. While the initial corporate social responsibility programme such as an environmental programme in the community. may be symmetrical in relation to its receiver.12 The concept of fluidity has been important to public relations theory since systems theory has been applied to the function as a fundamental concept. For example. Public relations facilitates both the activity and the process of communication and understanding to the benefit of all The definitions discussed above emphasize the importance of twoway communication and the requirement to serve the public interest while counselling management.say. One wonders what will happen to the programme once it becomes no longer necessary to approach the second public (or if the action does not have the desired effect . I would suggest that these obligations to management and society must sometimes conflict and create an internal tension and incompatibility for public relations and that some of the contradictions in corporate social responsibility programmes illustrate this tension. There are several ethical problems which arise from this approach. Furthermore. subsequent publicity may be directed at other influential publics for the purpose of image enhancement. the commitment of the company may be contingent on factors other than the primary. For Grunig and Hunt do not suggest that organizations necessarily fall into one category or another . for example in helping a planning or development project through the local political arena). However. TM This concept of public relations highlights the tension in the public relations role because again it does suggest that the public relations function must serve the organization first and not 'the public good'. It can be argued that corporate social responsibility is a good example of business responding to society's needs. relationship between donor and recipient.what they suggest is that some communications emanating from an organization will fall into one category. In addition to its advisory management role public relations also provides the techniques to communicate these activities to target publics which may include the media and individuals seen to be of influence to the organization. serving as an early warning systemto help anticipate trends. If the programme were chosen by public relations practitioners to appeal in the first instance to some public other than the recipient then both the motivation of the company with regard to its stated intention and its commitment to the project must be . 13 In systems terminology.Public Relations and CorporateSocial Responsibility utilize change. it goes some way to explain (a) why different models of the public relations function can be identified and (b) the difficulties entailed in establishing concepts of ethical practice in public rdations.. Corporate social responsibility falls within the public relations portfolio because it affects a company's image and reputation and public relations practitioners will want to capitalize on the opportunity because it tells publics exactly what sort of company they are dealing with.

. . it is simply arguing that two different types of public relations are taking place. . .. because industry is intrinsically part of the community. This is at the crux of the moral problem which lies at the centre of corporate social responsibility. Clearly it is our function to conduct our business profitably.1 16 Jacquie L'Etang influenced by government. As public consciousness of our physical environment has risen.. ours.. . The contribution that this can make to the community as a whole is substantial and provides a lead for others• . . . These values recognise our responsibilities to' all who have a stake in our affairs . There rests on all companies.employees. It features strongly in the statement of values recently circulated throughout the BP group to remind ourselves of issues which can too easily be taken for granted. However. training and centres of . .. .. customers. Corporate social responsibility itself is potentially an example of symmetrical public relations but when communicated to a third party it becomes publicity or public information in Grunig and Hunt's terms..19 . particularly large organizations like. the process is part of business' licence to operate.. Sainsbury's is fairly unusual in linking rather generalized phrases to specific issues as they do in their company objectives published in their annual was to prove that we had already been active and were not simply reacting to government pressure . . .. . can at least take their place alongside the many other organizations working to improve conditions in the wider community.. The formalization of the programme was in some senses a self-defence mechanism .. a responsibility to assist through donations and help.. . Evaluating corporate social responsibility Corporate social responsibility can and does bring marketing-type benefits to business by delivering target publics to the corporation• Corporate social responsibility may be seen as an investment against the day when a crisis occurs and the company needs all the goodwill it can muster. .. In our stores.. customers and suppliers. . Companies. . particularly our early emphasis on job creation schemes for ?. as concern for the young and disadvantaged has grown and as the need to maintain our cultural heritage has been more widely felt.. our community affairs programme is based upon enlightened self-interest and a recognition of the interdependence of the company and the community. efficiently and responding to meet our obligations to shareholders. .22 questioned. to achieve the highest level of cleanliness..23 A good example of a rather more self-interested motivation follows in the statement made by the Chairman of BP. employees.20 'Partnership' is something which we in BP accept as fundamental to the way we go about our business.16 • . . . .. its every action will affect the wider community . some of the programmes which were developed were very definitely Companies generally did not publicize or explain what they think the nature of their moral obligation is or how it related to their programmes of corporate social responsibility.17 . A company that is seen as having a genuine. so has Shell UK's involvement in the community increased• . .oung people in the mid-1980s.18 . . As well as creating wealth from the supply of our products and offering skills. shareholders and the community wherever we operate. To discharge the responsibility as leaders in our trade by acting with complete integrity. This is not to accept that corporate social responsibility and public relations are two different actions. Some examples are cited beneath. In a case where a company acknowledges and communicates its self-interest the public relations is being truthful (and could be defined as the public information model) but it is not symmetrical in that it is not representing the views of publics/recipients to management in a way that will encourage management/the organization to change. . the charities and agencies which exist in the community . by carrying out our work to the highest standards and by contributing to the public good and to the quality of life in the community • . Sainsbury's [a leading food retailer] is responding to the gathering momentum of public concern about the environment.21 • . . • . long-term relationship with its stakeholders and the community is less likely to be regarded as simply indulging in 'the hypocrisy of public relations'? s The small-scale research which I undertook suggested a varied rationale for undertaking programmes of corporate social responsibility.

Getting value for money from corporate social responsibility programmes is becoming an important business objective and. can nullify the apparent good that corporations do. public relations practitioners and marketers are taking an active role in corporate contributions. Indeed it has been pointed out elsewhere the flee market institution itself is a product of convictions about the nature of a good society and what constitutes a fair distribution of goods and services. 'corporate responsibility'.29 What I want to suggest here is that this approach is ethically unsound and. these phrases imply different types of activity.26 There is also some terminological confusion in some of the literature. justifications are economic and self-interested: Whatever its more altruistic role. though praiseworthy. however.. . one book written for a business audience recommends: • . it may mean that research can be directed into an area which interests you at less cost than establishing your own facilities. The others are utilitarian in structure and emphasize that corporate social responsibility should be judged by its beneficial effects in society: in these cases. increasingly. and 'corporate social responsibility' are often used interchangeably. and to suggest that corporations might benefit even more from their corporate social responsibility programmes than they do at present and ways in which this might be achieved. Apart from the public relations benefits. the £2 billion we have paid in taxes in the last two years represents a substantial contribution to the economic welt-being of the UK. economic activity is not separate from moral activity. judged upon utilitarian criteria. that a community has rights and the corporation has duties. indeed. not the means.Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility excellence. However.2a For example.24 Business' justification of corporate social responsibility programmes is not usually fully argued in their promotional literature but as in the examples given above limited to phrases such as 'we have an obligation to the community'. To measure corporate social responsibility only in terms of its potential . 'social responsibility is good business because it ensures a sound economic base and a good image'. but I would suggest that companies should be cautious about the amount of good they claim they do through these actions (a) because the theoretical utilitarian justification itself is open to criticism and (b) because a utilitarian approach requires a certain type of practical evaluation to take place. for example. they both create relations of dependence between donor and recipient. depends upon benevolence and altruism. . and more particularly. Endowing a university chair is an expensive business. too..3° Economic goals are social and political goals. 'because everyone is better off'. though the recipient may be very grateful for it because there cannot be a right to charity which. Our community affairs programme is based on enlightened self-interest and an understanding of the need for close relationships between the company and the communities in which we live and work. it is the ends which are important. Our policy of contributing in other ways to society is based on the recognition that the long-term interests of a company depend on a prosperous and peaceful community. The first of these justifications suggests that corporations must recognize specific obligations to the community. However.. this seems to suggest that corporations such as BP (cited above) feel they need not engage in moral discourse about activities they simultaneously claim as being of moral benefit. the successful generation of public awareness and appreciation of it. suggests a voluntary action done out of generosity and beneficence. The terms 'corporate responsibility' and 'corporate social responsibility' suggest that these are activities a compa W ought to carry out from a sense of duty or obligation. Charity cannot be demanded. but can be valuable. However we acknowledge that this is not enough. designing publicity campaigns and promotions around programs of charitable giving. Corporate philanthropy. proactive corporate social responsibility. 2s The public relations academic literature has tended to follow the same line of justification. 'Corporate philanthropy'.. This is not to deny that their actions may result in good ends. is good for business. a charitable act. Given that some corporations attempt to justify corporate social responsibility in economic terms. Charity or corporate philanthropy and corporate social responsibility 117 share some features. Charity should not be confused with corporate social responsibility.27 Increasingly.

companies promote themselves by publicizing their corporate contribution to society. For example. A key work in this field remains Friedman 32 who was responsible for sparking off the debate about corporate social responsibility. Friedman argues that business is socially responsible in its profit-making function and he sees altruistic acts carried out on behalf of business as a violation of business' function and obligations (which are purely economic). The concept of self-interestedness is worth exploring in the context of corporate social responsibility because. promotional brochures and press releases) not what the company can do for the recipient as defined and evaluated by the recipient. resources and length of commitment so that the recipient has little role to play in the decision-making process which determines the nature of the programme i.31 • . It is this possibility which raises ethical questions. However. though I would still argue that the company will not have an accurate impression of the value of the benefit unless they consult the recipients. activities and the amount of money. Corporate social responsibility programmes may thus be justified on grounds of mutual benefit while largely motivated by self-interest. The effect of greater awareness of corporate social responsibility and corporate obligation to society has had the effect of entangling corporations in a web of moral discourse which they cannot then either escape or deny. Measuring the effectiveness of corporate social responsibility in terms of the amount of publicity received suggests (though does not necessarily prove) a self-interested motivation. The economic argument seeks to persuade us that because all people are naturally selfinterested only self-interested actions can produce social benefits and only self-interest is justified. The companies I studied did not evaluate their corporate social responsibility programmes by taking account of the views of former recipients. Competing greed would operate as an 'invisiblehand' to force all traders to produce and sell at the lowest price and thereby utilise resources most efficiently. Increasingly. In such cases the relationship with the recipient is thus exploitative because what is important for the corporation is what the Laissez-faire capitalism is justified by utilitarian arguments that only under this system is the common good given sufficient weight and can good to society be maximised. Such arguments follow Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. while it is a quality criticized by moralists (as opposed to moral philosophers). as shown in the earlier examples. it might be argued that the phrase 'mutual self-interest' implies a far more equal relationship based on equal exchange than is usually the case in corporate social responsibility in the UK. It might be argued that lack of concern for the recipient and failure to take account of their evaluation is not of significance if the recipients benefited at all. contribution to the bottom line is a very limited form of evaluation. A l t e r n a t i v e justifications o f corporate social responsibility A commonly-used phrase in corporate justification of corporate social responsibility is 'enlightened selfinterest' implying that both the corporation and the community benefit from corporate social responsibility in accordance with crude uflitarian principles of 'the greatest good of the greatest number'.118 Jacquie L'Etang recipient can do for the corporation (in terms of contributing to their corporate social responsibility profile/portfolio. the pursuit of individual self-gainin the market place would lead to economiccommon good because the greed of sellerswould be constrainedby the greed of their rivals and of buyers. their autonomy may not be realized.e. donors choose beneficiaries. . The corporation motivated b y self-interest is unlikely to give full consideration to the needs and interests of a recipient. Friedman does not seem to think that . Smith argued that. The capitalist utilitarian conception of the common good is of an individualist society where freedom is maximised through the independent accumulation of individual satisfaction and government (and government regulation) is minimized. This justification suggests the recipient's benefit is seen as being of equal value to the benefit accruing to the company either through ensuring a healthier economic environment in which the company operates or in terms of improved image and competitive edge for the company. it is also regarded as an essential part of human make-up to ensure survival. The company's perception of these needs is likely to be distorted by its primarily self-interested motivation.

I felt no co:acern or surprise at that because any company has under law a responsibility to its shareholders to act in the best interests of the business and its private shareholders. This raises questions over the extent of flee will which individuals may exert to over. a representative from the public relations company Pielle. Friedman's argument is a bit confusing. Recent research done in the U K which surveyed over 800 companies found that the main reason companies were undertaking corporate social responsibility was. I can express admiration for those. it may reduce the wage bill.. taking part in a conference on corporate social responsibility commented. • . even if it is in the corporation's long-term interest. I am sure the shareholders would send you to a hot bath as a quicker and more comfortable way of getting it) 8 Psychological egoism argues that agents cannot help being selfish. through engendering competition.. . Yet he also argues that if it is in the longterm interest of companies to cloak their intentions in this way to further their self-interest then that is also acceptable. . 'the true principle is to associate self-interest with public interest'. . • 119 To illustrate. . This distinction clarifies whether the motivation behind an action is behavioural (psychological) or moral (philosophical) and it is important to this paper because it is argued that the motivation behind corporate social responsibility will be shown to be of the greatest significance in determining its . '3~ The director of the research. and the attitudes of the public make it in their self-interest to cloak their actions in this way. it is intrinsic to the nature of personhood. businesses have sought to justify corporate social responsibility in terms of self-interest and do so in one of two ways..33 Hirshleifer also takes a Smithian line when he argues that the ethical value of free-market capitalism lies in its ability. altruism is immoral unless it is in the agent's long-term interest.actions which promote the company's interests. i. This is the position taken by some of those who take part in corporate social responsibility policies. Hirshleifer argues that all humans are necessarily selfish though it is not clear whether he means psychologically or philosophically egoistic. O n the one hand he argues that actions done in the long-term interest of the company should not be rationalized as corporate social responsibility but simply justified for what they are . ' . Dr. David Clutterbuck then went on to say that he thought that this justification was ' . or lessen losses from pilferage and sabotage or have other worthwhile effects. .Public Relations and CorporateSocial Responsibility corporate social responsibility can be justified on grounds other than self-interest. For example. Ethical egoism argues that the agent ought to be selfish and that altruism is only justified if it ultimately serves the agent's ends i. it may well be in the long-run interest of a corporation that is a major employer in a small community to devote resources to providing amenities to that community or to improving its government. the need m preselwe the corporate image... Psychological egoism might suggest that altruism for the benefit of other agents is out of the ordinary and can be explained by some hidden motive of self-interest. Let me express a little personal concern at something you said just now. If you are just giving things away for the sake of a warm feeling.e. not quite so self-serving as one might have expected.e. . You were surprised that there had been little discussion about social responsibility actions that brought no benefit to the company. That may make it easier to attract desirable employees. to 'give the public what it wants at the lowest attainable price '34 and that. who disdain such tactics as approaching fraud.-ride pre-determined biological inclinations and drives. At the same time. It would be inconsistent of me to call on corporate executives to refrain from this hypocritical windowdressing because it harms the foundations of a free society. If our institutions. . . 3s Because of this traditional view. '37 It is possible to argue that the morality of this sort of motivation is questionable. There is a distinction to be made between these two types of justification which is that philosophical or ethical egoism constitutes a moral justification whereas psychological egoism is an explanation of human behaviour. I cannot summon much indignation to denounce them.. That would be to call on them to exercise 'social responsibility'. . . Either they will argue that contributing to their local community ensures that the community thrives and therefore will retain the ability to pay for the corporation's goods/services or that corporate social responsibility will create such a good impression that a resource of good will will be established which can be drawn on should the corporation suffer a crisis or need to lobby.

never simply as a means.< Kant argued that it was wrong to use people as a means to an end for one's own purposes and that one moral worth• Friedman's position on this point is not entirely clear because he seems to conflate justifications so that he appears to say that egoism is both natural and morally justifiable• It looks as though Friedman's argument is based on principles of ethical egoism and he does suggest that for a company to act contrary to its economic self-interest is immoral• As the examples cited earlier showed.. Kant still recognized the moral benefit of generous inclinations as supportive in doing good actions but argued that they must be consciously cultivated• From this he derived his formal principle of duty that. .. i. His key principle or imperative here was called 'The Formula of the End in Itselfl. An alternative approach defines goodness as intrinsic to an act. in the short term.120 Jacquie L 'Etang done by an agent because he or she ought to.. whether in your own person or in the person of any other. not because it is done from immediate inclination . for example by seeking the views of recipients• A utilitarian approach to corporate social responsibility does not recognize the rights and responsibilities of companies except in so far as they maximize happiness• A utilitarian approach is not focused on concepts of just relationships with particular stakeholders and their rights. The moral worth of an act is judged by asking whether the individual is willing for the act to become a universal law.still less because it is done from self-interest .. capitalists are allowed to accumulate capital for future re-investment. not fact. Utilitarians may argue that motivation is irrelevant and that doing right acts is sufficient and sets a good example in itself. since thriving capitalists may feel more inclined to afford such programmes. He attributed the action done out of duty with moral worth because the action arose from a rational process and included an understanding of obligation and duty. .e. Kant's view was that goodness is praiseworthy and that a right act is that . but from a formal principle or maxim . This view may be challenged on the grounds that people who are well motivated are more likely to act morally. If corporations do not consult former beneficiaries it will be hard for a company apparently inspired by the utilitarian philosophy to prove their claims and calculate the benefits.. Another part of Kant's philosophy which is particularly relevant to moral issues in corporate social responsibility relates to moral considerations within the context of human relationships. On Kantian grounds many corporate social responsibility programmes would bejudged as lacking in moral worth because they are done for self-interested or prudential reasons. A Kantian approach to corporate social responsibility will be concerned with the intrinsic nature of the act and the motivation for the action.the principle of doing one's duty whatever that may be. for reasons of self-interest. •39 Kant distinguished between generous actions done through an impulse of sympathy and those done out of duty.. This sort of approach is derived from Kant who held that the only good thing that is good without qualification or restriction is a good will. Act in such a way that you always treat humanity. . whether it is done out of a sense of duty or prudenrally. if. a common justification for corporate social responsibility is broadly utilitarian in structure• Utilitarians judge actions by their consequences and their contribution to the general happiness• The utilitarian capitalist will argue that everyone will be better offin the long run.but because it is done from the sake of duty.. . whereas those who are focused on consequences may only do what is right because it fits in with their own ends at the time. Such a company will be proceeding on the basis of assumptions. recognizes it as a universal law and does it out of duty and conformity to the universal law. It is therefore suggested that a utilitarian justification for corporate social responsibility fails if the utilitarian does not attempt to evaluate the effects of programmes in society.. It could be argued that programmes of corporate social responsibility are an example of such a benefit. but always at the same times as an end. A human action is morally good.40 This is consistent with an approach which recognizes the rights of certain stakeholder groups in relation to the activities of an organization and its concomitant responsibilities. An action done from duty has its moral worth not from the result it attains or seeks to attain. • .

It is important to corporate social responsibility. because it brings out how beneficiaries can be used as a means to the end of improving the company's image and secondly. On a Kantian account. Such claims are tantamount to deception and may confuse the public about the cornpaw's real aims and objectives arid its perception of its role in society. the beneficiaries and society. whether in terms of efficiency or moral responsibility.e. The publi-cizing of corporate social responsibility programmes raises questions over the moral motivation of the programme. If it is the case that corporations and their public relations consultants are motivated only by the self-interested desire to achieve publicity at the outset rather than out of a sense of duty or obligation to society then. It is suggested that this may lead to the development of an exploitative relationship between donor and recipient. Changing an image. in other words. If corporations act out of a desire to do good and out of a sense of social obligation then they should work towards setting up ethical decision-making procedures to determine the nature of their obligations and responsibilities as well as those which evaluate the effects of their activities on the beneficiaries of their donations so that they can be sure that they achieve the good that they claim. not claiming that the corporation wishes to be a good corporate citizen and to do good in society when in reality the real motive is the marketing of the company. requires a substantial commitment on behalf of the organization. i. because the relationship between donor and recipient may be intrinsically unjust because of the corporation's failure to take account of the individual's wishes. It is therefore argued that a Kantian approach based on ideas of duty and obligation can avoid some of the problems of immorality which arise from the traditional utilitarian approach. In particular.for two reasons. The moral difficulty for public relations lies both in its influence at the inception of the policy as well as in the communicative aspects in portraying reality hirly. then it ought to attempt to calculate cost-benefits to :itself. 121 Problems for public relations The view put forward above poses some difficult questions for public relations practitioners. to take account of the viewpoint of the recipient. they fail to recognize the individual's autonomy and to treat the recipient with respect as an individual in his or her own right.Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility had an obligation to treat people with care and respect having regard for each individual's subjective definition of his or her aims and objectives in life. A moral evaluation of effects might exclude corporate good will benefits and media coverage from the policy formulation and the post-programme evaluation and concentrate on the benefits to recipients and society. None of the companies approached in the small sample were able to supply methodologies which met these criteria: only media coverage and influencing key publics were mentioned. It could be argued that it is part of the corporate responsibility of the public reiations practitioner to assist management in understanding these different arguments and alternative perspectives and to develop symmetrical public relations and ethical corporate social responsibility. the change in visual identity must be accompanied by a substantial and real change in reality or it will be seen as mere window-dressing or even an attempt to deceive. As part of this the company might conduct a social audit amongst its respective stakeholders as well as the recipiei:ts of programmes. it is suggested that business' own utilitarian justification of corporate social responsibility fails where business does not attempt to evaluate the effects of programmes in society and in particular. respect for each individual's autonomy. I think that this implies the need for further analysis of the role of public relations in society and consideration of the public relations practitioner's prior obligation to society versus his or her obligation to the organization for which they work. To return to the analysis of different public relations models I . Should a company accept this point and act in good faith to behave as a 'corporate citizen' operating on the basis of mutual self-interest and the greatest good of the greatest number. i. In public relations terms the decision to develop and publicize programmes of corporate social responsibility is analogous to that to change a logo. on a Kantian account of morality.e. First. motivation in corporate social responsibility is identified as paramount in determining the worthiness of such programmes and empirical evidence suggests that business is often not well motivated. they are acting immorally.

1984. 5 Private correspondence 26June. Uni- . 1977. Ault. 12 Wilcox op cit. 1989. 10 Ibid. Holt. 21-46 and passim. p. Murray MacBeath from the Philosophy Department. Effective Public Relations. 'Adjustment and Adaptation: A Theoretical Model for Public Relations'. not simply in publicizing corporate social responsibility but in its sponsorship of corporate social responsibility and contribution to policy. 3 Wilcox op cit. specifically those which arise from its close relationship with public relations and to analyse the role of public relations. 18. 23 April. it can also use propaganda type tactics in its publicity mode. it is hoped that the paper raises questions and widens the debate about corporate social responsibility in a slightly different direction than has previously been attempted. 14 Cutlip. 7 Clement-Jones. Rinehart & Winston. 17. International Foundation for Public Relation Studies Gold Paper No. p. 1985. 4 Ibid. is Drucker. 13 See Bradshaw. Warren K. Managing Public Relations. Chapter 8. New York. pp. McGraw-Hill. Reston. Allen H. David (eds).. Scott M. 1 Wilcox. Public Relations and Propaganda: Values Compared. 23. Glen M. P. Public Relations Strategies and Tactics. and Agee. T o m Sorell from the Philosophy Department of the University of Essex and Lesley McTurk from the Philosophy Department of the Queen's University Belfast. Stuart Jones who patiently read and commented on all of the many drafts. Thanks are also due to my partner. New York. Clearly. & Hunt. Tim. Virginia. Janes E. 2 Grunig. None of these. 1981 and Paluszek. pp. Center. It can also help the organization to change in its relationship with these groups and to ensure that such groups are fully acquainted with all the issues and arguments and not simply manipulated in terms of their recognized self-interest. London. pp. 'Social Responsibility. Acknowledgements The author is grateful to the thought-provoking and helpful criticism of an anonymous reviewer and also to those who kindly commented on a section of this paper. in Marks and Spencer promotional brochure In the Community 1989. The Changing World of the Executive.. Dennis L.p. ~7 Shell UK Ltd promotional brochure 'Good Business' 'Social Responsibility and Good Business is Socially Responsible' Introduction. 234-256. 143.p. 41. It is at this point that issues of honesty and truthfulness arise. Dr. Thornton and Vogel.. 8 Traverse-Healy. versity of Stirling. Corporations and their Critics Issues and Answers to the Problems of Corporate Social Responsibility. 9 Grunig and Hunt op cit. Englewood Cliffs.. 6. 1988.. and Broom. New Jersey. Harper 8: Row. F. however. 6 Private correspondence 20july.. 1989. Will the Corporation Survive?. Chairman Marks and Spencer.p. 7..p. Lord. while this does not in any way pretend to be a complete analysis. (Prentice Hall). Reston Publishing Co. 184-199 passim. pp. are responsible for the views presented in this paper. p. Sheffield Business School ConferenceProceedings. As part of this endeavour I have tried to identify the varied role and scope of public relations and to suggest that while public relations can help business to respond to society in accordance with the two-way symmetrical model and Kantian respect for others. Notes Conclusion My intention in writing this paper was to highlight what I felt were difficulties in the practice of corporate social responsibility. 4. 1982. 11 Ibid. namely. 16. 89-95. pp.. 1989. Prentice-Hall. Heinemann Professional Publishing Ltd.. Phillip H.122 Jacquie L'Etang would argue that the symmetrical model is appropriate in the development of corporate social responsibility and can contribute to the clarification of the claims of different stakeholders and beneficiaries. 16 Sainsbury'sAnnual Report and Accounts. Tim. 4. John L. 19 Rayner. Helping to Create a Competitive Edge'. 1986. Todd. Dr. 18 Private correspondence with a financial institution. Alan Millar and Dr. 1992. not only in relation to the motivation of the company and the moral value of the corporate social responsibility programmes but also in relation to public relations and its role in society. If the requirements of the latter function start to drive the way in which public relations contributes to policy formulation then this seems to raise ethical problems.

: 1948. 33 Ibid. B. 1970. The Moral Law. Walker. 119. 41 Ibid. Effective PublicRelations (Prentice-Hall. 1. NY). IxW). 118-119. p. NY). London.. Tilson. J. Cornelius B. 1990. Good Business A Guide to CorporateResponsibility and BusinessEthics. M. 36 Chitterbuck. 126. !23 References Beauchamp. T. 31 Smith.): 1983. BusinessEthics Readings and Cases in CorporateMorality (Second Edition) (McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. 'Social Responsibility: Helping to Create a Competitive Edge'. K. 'Capitalist Ethics . Carol (Pielle) cited in Walker.. 1. 1987. Notre Dame). Sir Peter. Vol. 1948. P. Harmondsworth. Focus 'Corporate Social Responsibility'. H. . No. Bowie: 1988. Paton. Englewood Cliffs. p. and j. 1989. 33. Goodpaster. A.: 1982. Public Relations Review XV(2). H. and C. 1. 'Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility'. 'Friedman Fallacies'.) Business Ethics Readings and Cases in CorporateMorality (Second Edition). S. pp.).: 1984. M. 1986. pp.. Vol. Drummond: 1989. Ellin (eds. 13 September. Harmondsworth).j. 2. Penguin Books Ltd.. 32 et seq. London. The Wealth of Nations Books I-III. Clement-Jones. and T. 1.): 1990. Rounder: 1986. Chairman BP. p.). pp. H. XI. Dr. Sheffield Business School Conference Proceedings 23 April. K. E. T. 24 Wakers. Stiding.. Managing Public Relations (Holt. S. W.. 32. 32. 1. London). and Vance. 39 Paton. 26 Mannheim. Friedman. Nj). London. Jennifer Mills. New York Times.907-914. Profits and Professions: Essays in Business and Professional Ethics (Humana Press. Center and G. Donald. &otland. and j. 40 Paton op cit. 1986. 1986. 25 'Who wills the end. W.: 1992. 23 Sainsbury's oF. M. Business Ethics A European Review. 1959. E. and D. 27 Tilson. M. Rinehart. Cudip. 38 Friend. D. Robinson.Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility 20 BP promotional brochure BP and the Community Chairman's Introductory Statement. J.: 1970. 'Corporate Philanthropy Comes of Age'. in T. A. Clifton. 90. L.. also the means . The Moral Law Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. 'Corporate Social Responsibility-'. W. Sheena and Drummond. and L. Mannheim. Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. University of Stirling. 9. Donn J. John.January 1992. Winston. 41. cit. H. 3s Ibid. and N. The Moral Law. ' Paton. F. Public Relations Strategiesand Tactics (Harper & Row.: 199 i. 28 Mannheim and Pratt op cit. H. L. 31. Michael. Agee: 1986. Sir Richard Morton. Hutchinson. p. Corporationsand the Common Good (University of Notre Dame Press. Broom: 1985. Dickie. pp.. 89-95. p. Smith. 90. 22 Ibid. p. Barbara. 34 Hirshleifer.. Grunig. M. Statement by the Chairman. J. pp. J.: 1987. Englewood Cliffs).. PublicRelations Review XI (2). M. 'Identifying and Managing Social Responsibility'. Hunt: 1984. Vol.) 1989. 2. 1989. Hutchinson. 21 BP promotional brochure BP in Society Partners in Education and the Community. 9. Grant. Journal of Business Ethics 10. 31. . Ethical Theory and Business (Third Edition) (Prentice Hall. The Wealth of Nations (Books I-III) (Penguin Books Ltd. D. Auk and W. 1948. NJ). Pritchard and j. Public Relations Review Vol. S.. Adam. 'Corporate Philanthropy Comes of Age'. p. Wilcox. p. just Business New Introductory Essays in BusinessEthics (Random House. The Changing World of the Executive (Heinemann Professional Publishing Ltd. 29--45. 1991. 30 Hoffman. 1989. 117. 35. . London).: 1992. &hooI of Management. 37 Ibid. Jarol B. Regan (ed. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.January 1992. wills . P. Good Business A Guide to CorporateResponsibility and Business Ethics (Business Books Ltd. 1. p. Business Books Ltd. Kant's Groundworkoaf the Metaphysic ofMorals (Hutchinson.. Pratt: t989. p.. (Imprint of Century Hutchinson Ltd. B. Mikon. J. London). 'The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits'. 124. 'The Concept of Corporate Responsibility'. No. . and Moore. BP and the Community. United KinJom. PublicRelations Review. XV No. 1985. No.. David.Vol. New York et al. 1.. F. S. Drucker. C. 32 Friedman. 'The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits'.. New York Times 13 September. . (eds. Hoffman. B. 26. p. NY et al. B. R. Carmichael. Business Ethics A European Review. L. BusinessEthics A European Review 1 (1). 'Communicaring Corporate Social Responsibility'. 29 Carmichael. Vance: 1985.Tough or Soft?' The Journal ofLaw and Economics.. p. Jack. Moore (eds. and Pratt.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful