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CSR and beyond: Banging the drum

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I have argued that corporate social responsibility (CSR) should be about responsible business behaviour and that getting the basics right including employing people properly, paying tax and selling honestly is by far the most important thing; that said recent events in the Capital have come as a salutary reminder that the ‘community’ element of CSR is also a crucial part of the mix.


The 1980s saw race riots occur across all the major cities in the UK. The government of the time was extremely concerned that the multicultural model had not worked and there was in Britain a generation of young people, who because of the colour of their skin, found themselves without qualifications and without work. Interestingly many businesses also woke up to the fact that they were part of the problem and part of the solution.

While many public bodies had worked hard up to that point to remove discrimination and encourage people from ethnic minorities to apply for jobs and progress in careers, in the private sector progress was much slower.

The origins of Business in the Community go back to this time when it was clear to many that businesses needed to change their attitudes if we were to create a genuinely inclusive workplace and to start to reverse the considerable racism experienced by many in the UK, especially by young black men.

The pictures from Beeston in South Leeds seem to me to tell a similar story of failure and opportunity. Surely if we can embrace young Muslim men and women, provide them with opportunities to succeed in this society, then we can start to reduce some of the hostility and fear that has been expressed by this community.

This is not to say that some extremists will not continue to attack our society. But if we can eliminate any just grievances borne from alienation and discrimination in the UK workplace then we can isolate those who continue to attack us.

The origins of CSR started with businesses recognising that they could be a force for good (and the cost to the business was in fact minimal or surprisingly positive). The original activities were about business leaders going into deprived communities, hearing about the problems that people faced and seeing what practical things they could do to respond.

The most obvious response was to offer training and employment for people previously excluded from the job market. In addition many companies also looked for ways to apply their skills to help the community to tackle some of the problems it faced. Other businesses also saw opportunities to buy from businesses located and operated by people from ethnic minorities.

This type of motivation has produced genuine progress in the UK. But exclusion and deprivation still exist. I hope that the bombings will now give added motivation and impetus to businesses to encourage them to tackle discrimination and exclusion within their own organisations. In particular I hope that businesses are able to use their recruiting and buying power to support the excluded Muslim communities within the UK.

Leo Martin is director and founder of GoodCorporation, the corporate responsibility standard and is the principal character in the BBC’s series, Good Company, Bad Company.

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