Corporate Social Responsibility and the tradition of Catholic Social Thought
The recent report of the European Commission on Corporate Social Responsibility resonates with the innovative postulates of ‘Caritas in Veritate’.
For the Christian identity in the Modern World the emergence of Christian Social Thought has been of crucial importance. Its innovative character, which is largely forgotten today can be remembered with a quick glance on the first Papal Encyclical ‘Rerum Novarum’ of Pope Leo XIII. 1891 or even the reminiscence of it in the second Social Encyclical ‘Quadragesimo Anno’ 1931. Industrialization was the most radical socio-economic transformation in the history of mankind. Philosophers like Nietzsche and Marx questioned the role of Christian values in an unprecedented way. In this situation the Christian Social movement essentially extended Christian ethics beyond a mere individual virtue based doctrine into a ‘social teaching’ - calling for adequate rules and regulations within a ‘just’ social order.
In a way, we live in a very similar situation today. With Globalization and the emergence of the ‘post-national constellation’ (J. Habermas) the cultural samples and institutional solutions of the 20th century are again at stake. Will today’s Christians show the same cultural creativity and learn to express the Western Christian tradition in an up-to-date way? The recent social Encyclical ‘of Pope Benedict XVI (2009) pushes us into this direction. ‘Caritas in Veritate’ criticizes a widespread ideological dualism between market and state and calls for a new culture of Civic responsibility. Therefore, the document also addresses business leaders, costumers and investors. Like in the 19th century, when Entrepreneurs like Léon Harmel from France and Franz Brandts from Germany played an important role for the emergence of Catholic Social Thought, business practise will again be crucial.
The recent report of the European Commission on Corporate Social Responsibility resonates with the innovative postulates of ‘Caritas in Veritate’. It is not the commission’s first report on CSR but rather extends a number of trailblazing documents from 2001 as well as 2006. These reports – like a series of international activities including the Foundation of the Global Compact 1999/ 2000, the proclamation of the Millennium Development Goals etc. – are based on the assumption that Governments alone will no longer be able to secure basic public goods on a global scale. Based on recent Scientific literature the commission pledges for a advanced concept of CSR: this is not only orientated towards operational savings but calls for a ‘strategic implementation’ by the development of innovative goods, services and business models creating values for costumers, employees and shareholders. The reflection on cooperatives and mutual trusts seems to represent an explicit allusion to ‘Caritas in veritate’, here. This holds also true for the paper’s foundation in a subsidiary structure, which perceives it as the main task of political entities not to substitute or dominate but to support and nurture the Social Responsibility of Companies. According to the report, not Government but companies as well as unions and civil society should find new ways to walk the talk on Corporate Responsibility; consumers and investors are called to reward these activities, media to report on them.
What becomes obvious here is a really innovative concept of the modern social fabric. In many ways this can be perceived as a continuation of Catholic Social Thought, which impacted the Western market economies in the 20th centuries. The EU commission announces a series of instruments and procedures to strengthen the awareness and the role of Corporate Reponsibility in the interplay of the social actors and groups: Multi-Stakeholder-Forums, a code of conduct for self-regulation and co-regulatory arrangements, integration of Social and environmental criteria into public procurement, the obligation for banks to inform about their social and ecologic criteria etc. Transparency of information, competence-building in companies and social environment as well as hand-outs and platforms are the most important instruments of the commission to spread the word of CSR. Christian managers and associations – like the the global entrepreneurial association UNIAPAC, which published their own paper on CSR already some years ago, the Papal commission ‘Justice and Peace’ etc. - should actively observe this process bringing in a genuine Christian perspective.
Prof. Dr. André Habisch
Scientific consultant of the Bund Katholischer Unternehmer in Germany and teaches business ethics at the Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt (Germany)