Social responsibility from businesses such as providing recycling bins can in turn provide opportunities for people to be socially responsible by recycling.

Social responsibility is an ethical concept in which a person works and cooperates with other people and organizations for the benefit of the community.[1]

An organization can demonstrate social responsibility in several ways, for instance, by donating, encouraging volunteerism, using ethical hiring procedures, and making changes that benefit the environment.[2]

Social responsibility is an individual responsibility that involves a balance between the economy and the ecosystem one lives within,[3] and possible trade-offs between economic development, and the welfare of society and the environment.[4] Social responsibility pertains not only to business organizations but also to everyone whose actions impact the environment.[5]


Writers in the classical Western philosophical tradition acknowledged the importance of social responsibility for human thriving.


Aristotle determined that "Man is by nature a political animal."[6]: I.2 

He saw ethics and politics as mutually-reinforcing: a citizen develops the virtues in large part so that they can contribute to making the polis an excellent and stable one. And the purpose of that was so that the polis would be fertile soil in which a thriving, virtuous citizenry could grow (and in order that there could be an appropriate political context in which one could successfully practice virtues like justice which require a political context).[6]: I.1–2, III.4, VII.1–3 [7]: II.1, V.6, X.9 

He believed that the polis is meant to be "a community of equals for the sake of a life which is potentially the best."[6]: VII.8  Some of the virtues in his scheme of virtue ethics, like magnificence and justice were inseparable from a sense of social responsibility.[7]: IV.2, V 

Ancient Rome

Cicero believed that "In no other realm does human excellence approach so closely the paths of the gods as it does in the founding of new and in the preservation of already founded communities."[8]

In the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, he wrote that "That which isn't good for the hive isn't good for the bee."[9]

Modern times

In 1953, the book Social responsibility of the businessman published by the American economist Howard Bowen was one of the first to address the issue of social responsibility as it relates to business activity.[10]

Individual social responsibility

One can be socially responsible passively, by avoiding engaging in socially harmful acts, or actively, by performing activities that advance social goals. Social responsibility has an intergenerational aspect, since the actions of one generation have consequences for their posterity, and also can be more or less respectful for their ancestors.[11]

Social responsibility can require a degree of boldness or courage. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for example, believed that "we have gotten used to regarding as valor only valor in war (or the kind that's needed for flying in outer space), the kind which jingle-jangles with medals. We have forgotten another concept of valor—civil valor. And that's all our society needs, just that, just that, just that!".[12]

Another way to be socially responsible is by being careful not to spread information that you have not diligently vetted for its truth. In the modern information environment, "the stakes of credulity are simply too high," says Francisco Mejia Uribe. Socially responsible people have "the moral obligation to believe only what we have diligently investigated." And a socially responsible person "in her capacity as communicator of belief… has the moral responsibility not to pollute the well of collective knowledge and instead to strive to sustain its integrity."[13]

Scientists and engineers

The social responsibility of scientists and engineers can influence how robots are programmed.

Are scientists and engineers morally responsible for the negative consequences that result from applications of their knowledge and inventions?[14] If scientists and engineers take pride in the positive achievements of science and technology, shouldn't they also accept responsibility for the negative consequences related to the use or abuse of scientific knowledge and technological innovations?[15] Scientists and engineers have a collective responsibility to examine the values embedded in the research problems they choose and the ethics of how they share their findings with the public.[16][editorializing]

Committees of scientists and engineers are often involved in planning governmental and corporate research programs, including those devoted to the development of military technologies and weaponry.[17][18] Many professional societies and national organizations, such as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in the United States, have ethical guidelines (see Engineering ethics and Research ethics for the conduct of scientific research and engineering).[19] Scientists and engineers, individually and collectively, have a special and greater responsibility than average citizens with respect to the generation and use of scientific knowledge.

Some argue that because of the complexity of social responsibility in research, scientists and engineers should not be blamed for all the evils created by new scientific knowledge and technological innovations.[14] First, there is fragmentation and diffusion of responsibility: Because of the intellectual and physical division of labor, the resulting fragmentation of knowledge, the high degree of specialization, and the complex and hierarchical decision-making process within corporations and government research laboratories, it is exceedingly difficult for individual scientists and engineers to control the applications of their innovations.[17] This fragmentation of work and decision-making results in fragmented moral accountability, often to the point where "everybody involved was responsible but none could be held responsible."[20]

Another problem is ignorance. The scientists and engineers cannot predict how their newly generated knowledge and technological innovations may be abused or misused. The excuse of ignorance is stronger for scientists involved in very basic and fundamental research where potential applications cannot be even envisioned, than for scientists and engineers involved in applied scientific research and technological innovation since in such work objectives are well-known. For example, most corporations conduct research on specific products or services that promise to yield profit for share-holders. Similarly, most of the research funded by governments is mission-oriented, such as protecting the environment, developing new drugs, or designing more lethal weapons. In cases where the application of scientific knowledge and technological innovation is well-known a priori, a scientist or engineer cannot escape responsibility for research and technological innovation that is morally dubious.[21] As John Forge writes in Moral Responsibility and the Ignorant Scientist: "Ignorance is not an excuse precisely because scientists can be blamed for being ignorant."[22]

Another point of view is that responsibility falls on those who provide the funding for the research and technological developments (in most cases corporations and government agencies). Because taxpayers provide the funds for government-sponsored research, they and the politicians that represent them should perhaps be held accountable for the uses and abuses of science.[23] In times past scientists could often conduct research independently, but today's experimental research requires expensive laboratories and instrumentation, making scientists dependent on those who pay for their studies.

Quasi-legal instruments, or soft law, has received some normative status in relation to private and public corporations in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights developed by the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee particularly in relation to child and maternal welfare.[clarification needed][24]: 7  The International Organization for Standardization will "encourage voluntary commitment to social responsibility and will lead to common guidance on concepts, definitions and methods of evaluation."[25]

Corporate social responsibility

Main article: Corporate Social Responsibility

Ethical decision-making by businesses can prevent costly government intervention in those businesses.[26] For instance, if a company follows the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines for emissions of dangerous pollutants and goes further to involve the community and address concerns the public might have, they might be less likely to have the EPA investigate them.[26] According to some experts, most rules and regulations are formed due to public outcry, which threatens profit maximization and therefore the well-being of shareholders; if there is no outcry, this limits regulation.[27]

Some critics argue that corporate social responsibility (CSR) distracts from the fundamental economic role of businesses; others argue that it is nothing more than superficial window-dressing, such as "greenwashing";[28] others argue that it is an attempt to pre-empt the role of governments as a watchdog over powerful corporations. A significant number of studies have shown no negative influence on shareholder results from CSR but rather a slightly positive correlation with improved shareholder returns.[29]

While many corporations include social responsibility in their operations, those procuring their goods and services may also independently ensure these products are socially sustainable. Verification tools are available from many entities internationally,[30] for example the Underwriters Laboratories environmental standards, BioPreferred, and Green Seal. A corporate reputation aligned with social responsibility is linked to higher profits, particularly when firms voluntarily report the positive and negative impacts of their social responsibility endeavors.[31]

Certification processes like these help corporations and their consumers identify potential risks associated with a product's lifecycle and enable end users to confirm the corporation's practices adhere to social responsibility ideals. A reputation for social responsibility leads to more positive responses toward a brand's products by inducing a reciprocal desire to help companies that have helped others, an effect that is more prominent among consumers who value helping others and is reduced if consumers doubt a firm's intentions.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Jensen, Derrick (2006). "Responsibility". Endgame. Vol. II. Toronto, Ont.: Seven Stories Press. p. 696. ISBN 978-1583227305.
  2. ^ Ganti, Akhilesh. "Social Responsibility in Business: Meaning, Types, Examples, and Criticism". Investopedia. Archived from the original on 2023-08-27. Retrieved 2023-08-27.
  3. ^ Anheier, Helmut K.; Toepler, Stefan (2009). International Encyclopedia of Civil Society. U.S.A.: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 577.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Perceptions and Definitions of Social Responsibility" (PDF). Winnipeg, Manitoba: International Institute for Sustainable Development. May 2004. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-10-07.
  6. ^ a b c Aristotle. Politics.
  7. ^ a b Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics.
  8. ^ Cicero, De Legibus
  9. ^ Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. VI.64.
  10. ^ Wherry, Frederick F.; Schor, Juliet B. (2015). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Economics and Society. U.S.A.: SAGE Publications. p. 476.
  11. ^ Invernizzi, Diletta Colette; Locatelli, Giorgio; Brookes, Naomi J. (2017-10-01). "Managing social challenges in the nuclear decommissioning industry: A responsible approach towards better performance" (PDF). International Journal of Project Management. Social Responsibilities for the Management of Megaprojects. 35 (7): 1350–1364. doi:10.1016/j.ijproman.2016.12.002. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2023-06-17. Retrieved 2023-08-30.
  12. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Alexander (1973). The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956. Vol. 1: An Experiment in Literary Investigation.
  13. ^ Mejia Uribe, Francisco (12 January 2021). "To be a responsible citizen today, it is not enough to be reasonable". Psyche. Archived from the original on 30 August 2023. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ Ziman, J. (1971). "Social responsibility (I) – The impact of social responsibility on science". Impact of Science on Society. 21 (2): 113–122.
  16. ^ Resnik, D. B.; Elliott, K. C. (2016). "The ethical challenges of socially responsible science". Accountability in Research. 23 (1): 31–46. doi:10.1080/08989621.2014.1002608. PMC 4631672. PMID 26193168.
  17. ^ a b Collins, F. (1972). "Social ethics and the conduct of science – Specialization and the fragmentation of responsibility". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 196 (4): 213–222. Bibcode:1972NYASA.196..213C. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1972.tb21230.x. PMID 4504112. S2CID 38345454.
  18. ^ Leitenberg, M. (1971). "Social responsibility (II) – The classical scientific ethic and strategic-weapons development". Impact of Science on Society. 21 (2): 123–136.
  19. ^ On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research (Third ed.). The National Academies Press. 2009. doi:10.17226/12192. ISBN 9780309119702. PMID 25009901. Archived from the original on 2023-08-30. Retrieved 2023-08-30.
  20. ^ Lowrance, W.W. (1985). Modern science and human values. Oxford University Press. p. 75.
  21. ^ Ravetz, J.R. (1996). Scientific knowledge and its social problems. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers. p. 415.
  22. ^ Forge, J (2000). "Moral responsibility and the ignorant scientist". Science and Engineering Ethics. 6 (3): 341–349. doi:10.1007/s11948-000-0036-9. PMID 11273459. S2CID 40073027.
  23. ^ Beckwith, J.; Huang, F. (2005). "Should we make a fuss? A case for social". Nature Biotechnology. 23 (12): 1479–1480. doi:10.1038/nbt1205-1479. PMID 16333283. S2CID 20366847.
  24. ^ Faucet, T.A.; Nasu, H. (2009). "Normative Foundations of Technology Transfer and Transnational Benefit Principles in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights" (PDF). Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 34 (3): 1–26. doi:10.1093/jmp/jhp021. PMID 19395367. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  25. ^ ISO 26000: Social responsibility. 2009. p. 8.
  26. ^ a b Kaliski, B., ed. (2001). "Ethics in Management". Encyclopedia of Business and Finance. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan Reference. p. 2.
  27. ^ Armstrong, J. Scott (1977). "Social Irresponsibility in Management" (PDF). Journal of Business Research. 5 (3). Elsevier North-Holland Inc.: 185–213. doi:10.1016/0148-2963(77)90011-X. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-11-17.
  28. ^ Góngora, Alejos; Lucía, Claudia (2013). "Greenwashing: Only the Appearance of Sustainability". IESE Insight. Archived from the original on 2020-03-12. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Resources for Verifying Sustainable Products". Sustainable Facilities Tool. Archived from the original on 2022-10-04. Retrieved 2016-03-11.
  31. ^ Johnson, Z. (January 2019). "Self-Reporting CSR Activities: When Your Company Harms, Do You Self-Disclose?". Corporate Reputation Review. 21 (4): 153–164. doi:10.1057/s41299-018-0051-x. S2CID 170000354.
  32. ^ Johnson, Z. (2019). "Good Guys Can Finish First: How Brand Reputation Affects Extension Evaluations". Journal of Consumer Psychology. 29 (4): 565–583. doi:10.1002/jcpy.1109. S2CID 150973752. Archived from the original on 2020-08-07. Retrieved 2020-05-07.

Further reading

  • Crane, Andrew; Matten, Dirk; McWilliams, Abagail; Moon, Jeremy; Siegel, Donald S., eds. (2008). The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199211593.001.0001. ISBN 9780191576997.
  • Idowu, Samuel; Cheney, George; Roper, Juliet (2018). ISO 26000 - A Standardized View on Corporate Social Responsibility. Springer International. ISBN 978-3-319-92650-6.
  • Kalinda, B., ed. (2001). "Social Responsibility and Organizational Ethics". Encyclopedia of Business and Finance. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan Reference.
  • May, Steve; Cheney, George; Roper, Juliet (2007). The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195178821. OCLC 70292018.
  • McBarnet, Doreen J.; Voiculescu, Aurora; Campbell, Tom (2007). The New Corporate Accountability: Corporate Social Responsibility and the Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521868181. OCLC 181421309.
  • Pride, William M.; Hughes, Robert James; Kickapoo, Jack R. (2008). Business (9th ed.). Boston, Mass.: Houghton McFarland Company. ISBN 978-0618770915.
  • Rossi, Alice S. (2001). Caring and Doing for Others: Social Responsibility in the Domains of Family, Work, and Community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226728728. OCLC 45064591.
  • Salles, Denis (2011). "Responsibility based environmental governance". S.A.P.I.EN.S. 4 (1). Archived from the original on 3 September 2019. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
  • Wayne, Dirk Matten; Pohl, Manfred; Tolhurst, Nick, eds. (2007). The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility. London; New York: Wiley. ISBN 978-0470723951.
  • Zerk, Jennifer A. (2006). Multinationals and Corporate Social Responsibility: Limitations and Opportunities in International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521844994. OCLC 76849750.