There are hundreds of definitions of corporate social responsibility, or CSR. The one we think says it the best comes from the International Organization for Standardization’s  Guidance Standard on Social Responsibility, ISO 26000, published in 2010. It says:

“Social responsibility is the responsibility of an organisation for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that:

  • Contributes to sustainable development, including the health and the welfare of society
  • Takes into account the expectations of stakeholders
  • Is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour, and
  • Is integrated throughout the organization and practised in its relationships.”

Another details definition of CSR is one offered by World Business Council for Sustainable Development: “The continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large”

A plethora of concepts have emerged to express the role and responsibilities of business in society. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) origins traced with early industrialists; it is now viewed as “one of, if not the most important issue of our time” (Hopkins, 2007: xiii).

CSR practice gaining roots in Africa but its scholarship is negligible. Myth that CSR in developing countries is new; e.g. suggestions that MNCs introduce CSR in host countries.

Assumptions that companies that trade more with westernized countries might be expected to raise their levels of CSR (Fukukawa and Moon, 2004: reference to Japan; Muthuri and Gilbert, 2011 on CSR in Kenya).

Suggestions that institutional context (e.g. laws, corruption; poor governance) explains corporate irresponsibility and complicity in Africa OR Influences social, economic and environmental performance of firms.

CSR definitions is ambiguous; terms like corporate social investment, corporate citizenship, business ethics are used interchangeably

‘…the operational definition of CSR in the sub-Saharan region seems to lead towards corporate social investment. Herein lay both a challenge and an opportunity: What needs to be done to shift this trend and create a more holistic understanding of CSR and transform business philosophy and practice to align with it?’ (GTZ, 2009, p. 11)

Both Internal drivers and External drivers

CSR as self-regulation (driven by instrumental, strategic, altruistic reasons e.g. Ghana Business Code 2006; partnerships e.g. The Business action Against Corruption: 10 countries)

CSR as governmental regulation (i.e. compliance with the laws e.g. BBBEE Act of 2003; National Environmental Management Agencies; The Ghana Children’s Act, 1998)

CSR as civil/social regulation – NGO  activism e.g. INCSR, EITI, ETI etc

Institutional investors e.g. Johannesburg Securities Exchange global leader in market regulation and sustainable development (, Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (

Institutional pressures: e.g.

  • Accountability in global supply chain
  • Stakeholder expectations of financial institutions to reduce financial exclusion, responsible lending
  • Stakeholder activism (e.g. development agencies; trade union association; international NGOs; business associations)

Market access and Organizational factors e.g. competitive advantage, firm’s performance

  • BOP: an approach to creating or developing  new markets; seeing the unfilled human needs  as an untapped market (Prahalad, 2005)
  • International standardization: Codes and CSR standards; Growing adoption rates of ISO 14001 (e.g. cocoa, textiles, horticulture), GRI Principles, etc.

Regulation – increasing focus on enabling legislation that encourage responsible corporate behavior

–Citizen’s Economic Empowerment (CEE) in Zambia inspired by South Africa’s BEE Legislation

–Legislation on Social Responsibility Agreements between holders of forest concessions and local communities in Ghana

Regulatory, social and cultural pillars shape CSR in Africa. The need to conform or mimic ‘best practices’ for legitimacy

Companies are value-driven, performance-driven, and stakeholder-driven (Maignan & Ralston, 2002)

CSR agenda is dominated by philanthropy. However, new norms and cognitive mindsets that favor strategic CSR are emerging e.g. the INCSR advocacy efforts through annual pan African conferences to redefine CSR in the region.

Develop structures and institutions that contribute to social justice, environmental protection, and poverty alleviation

  • Need for CSR to go beyond voluntarism and consider corporate accountability through regulation

Need to strengthen and develop (CSR) institutions to, i.e.

  • Provide education, training, technical assistance, & awareness
  • Enable CSR to be implemented in ways that benefit both business and society

Build drivers for responsible business

  • Tackling capacity constraints of actors to engage in CSR or act as a driver of CSR
  • Provide a mix of incentives to encourage firms to adopt CSR
  • Monitoring regulatory compliance
  • Mandate CSR through regulations such as on CSR reporting or development of CSR policy framework
  • Facilitate CSR through provision of incentives like tax rebates, allocation of resources, information dissemination and provisions of guidelines on content
  • Endorse CSR through awards and public procurement which encourage responsible business; and
  • Enforce responsible business practice through punishing corporate irresponsibility

The social responsibilities of business are those responsibilities that arise in the context of corporate-stakeholder relationships. Stakeholders have expectations about the behavior and responsibilities of business that go beyond the provision of jobs and products or services. No two companies are likely to have the exact same set of responsibilities, because each corporation has different products, services and strategies and therefore, different combinations of stakeholders and stakeholder interests and issues. Nevertheless, a plethora of international initiatives have attempted to provide guidance on the question of the social responsibilities of business, such as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN GPBHR)

If you want to find out more about CSR in Africa, enroll on our monthly training courses for both general and sector focused CSR training including ISO certifications around Africa. You may also want to subscribe to for our research reports and CSR, Sustainability and Corporate Human Rights Articles on our website. We have a network of industry leading Consultants that can help you understand how to design and implement an effective CSR sustainability strategy/policy for increased bottom-line and/or oversight.

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Contact us at the INSCR office nearest to you or submit a  inquiry online.