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What is corporate responsibility?

Development projects in south India.

In 1971 the Committee for Economic Development produced a model depicting areas of corporate responsibility (CED, 1971: 15).  The purpose of developing the model was to show how companies could serve society to a level that those societies expected. The inner circle of the model was economic – a responsibility to provide jobs, products and economic growth.  The intermediate circle was to reflect societal values and priorities which included the environment and employees.  The outer circle was less specific social issues (such as poverty). (see figure 1).

Corporate responsibility

Over time, in the years since 1971, companies have come to realise that they have an ethical and wider responsibility for what has become called the ‘the Triple Bottom Line’ which identifies economic, social and environmental spheres (or ‘profit, people and planet’).

Nicola's research examines the practicalities of how companies address these responsibilities in partnership and taking a long term approach. In many cases they don't act directly in the society, but rather by giving support to other organisations that are working with communities. Typically these are NGOs - non-governmental organisations - such as charities and development companies which are already working in the field to address social and environmental needs. Nicola realised that there was little evidence in the business and social literature of what the outcomes of these interventions look like from a community perspective.

To address this, she undertook fieldwork in the south of India and looked at a number of NGOs working with community groups supported by bigger commercial companies. One of the community groups she examined was a group of women in a small village who were making carrier bags. Two of the women who make the bags are pictured below, and then there is a picture of Nicola with one of the bags.

Two women bag makers

Nicola with bag



CED (1971) Social responsibilities of business corporations, New York, Committee for Economic Development.

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