Social responsibility – Concept, origin, types and examples

We explain what social responsibility is, its origin and what types exist. Also, examples of corporate social responsibility.

social responsability
Being socially responsible is considering the consequences of our actions.

What is social responsibility?

In different areas, social responsibility is known as the obligation, burden or commitment we have to the welfare of society. We can have social responsibility as individuals or as members of a group or an institution.

To be socially responsible, we must consider the impact and consequences that our actions, especially those intended for our benefit, have on others and on the quality of the environment in which they take place.

One of its most common forms today is corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is the commitment of companies and corporations to the society in which they operate. It is an obligation to return to society some of the benefits they obtain from it, since no productive initiative can prosper with its back to society itself, as if it were an island.

Broadly speaking, social responsibility can be understood as an ethical and legal approach to organizations and institutions, so that It is contemplated in numerous laws and regulations of the different countries. Furthermore, it constitutes an entire field of study of business administration, the importance of which in the modern world continues to grow.

Origin of social responsibility

The responsibility of the individual towards the group to which he belongs is not a new issue, and different ancient human cultures expressed it at the time in very different ways, and they even made it the subject of many epic cycles and moral and religious teachings.

But the formulation of a field of study dedicated to social responsibility is a modern affair., typical of capitalist industrial society, in which the State ceded many of its areas of influence to private actors (to the free market), which allowed individual initiatives to develop freely, without being forced to respond to society for the ways in which they generated their wealth.

This trend brought with it not a few dire consequences and a lot of social conflict, and throughout the twentieth century an idea was formed of the need for a more responsible industrial capitalism in social, ecological and even economic terms.

In fact, today social responsibility is considered among the “soft laws” or normative agreements present in international treaties that, without having the force of law, cast an ethical and social sanction on whoever includes them.

Types of social responsibility

social responsibility types
Avoiding the use of straws is an example of negative social responsibility.

According to the theoretical postulates of social responsibility, there are two forms of responsibility: positive and negative.

  • Positive responsibility or proactive, that which forces to act or intervene in society, to make it something better. For example, when a company intervenes in a deprived neighborhood to finance the construction of better homes, it is intervening for the better in its surroundings.
  • Negative or abstention responsibility, that which obliges to refrain from acting, that is, not to intervene, in order to preserve society. For example, when a company refrains from cutting down a forest to take advantage of the soils, and instead finances a refuge for the region’s biodiversity.

On the other hand, it is possible to classify social responsibility depending on the actors concerned, thus being able to speak of Corporate Social Responsibility, Government Social Responsibility, Individual Social Responsibility, etc.

Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility

Some examples of social responsibility on the part of companies are the following:

The case of Mercadona in Spain. It is a large supermarket company that has launched an ambitious campaign of social responsibility in the ecological and urban areas, through four types of actions:

  • Night and silent unloading of food, so as not to contribute to urban traffic and at the same time respect the rest hours of the city’s residents.
  • Electric energy saving, through reformulations of the architecture of its premises to take advantage of sunlight, installation of sensors in the exterior lights and heat recovery systems in the engine room.
  • Recycling programs, which give new life to the packaging of its products and cardboard, plastic, glass and other containers.
  • Donations to organizations, such as the Red Cross, Cáritas and some soup kitchens, in order to contribute to the social well-being of those who have the least.

The case of Xerox in the USA. This colossal photocopiers and accessories company has implemented since 1974 a social responsibility program that involves its employees through a volunteer system, and which allocates a generous percentage of its annual profits to the development of community plans for local impact. In 2013 alone, the company allocated US $ 1.3 million to this program and around 13,000 volunteers from its company.