Corporate Social Responsibility in Troubled Times and the Role of Business Leaders

What is the Responsibility of Business in These Troubled Times?

It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that we are living in Dark Times and where the discourse and the narrative are dominated by hate and vitriol.

Moreover, there is an unprecedented assault on the marginalised and the underprivileged, what with stripping them off their rights and scaling back the welfare state that was achieved after decades of struggle by progressives.

So, in such times, what is the responsibility of business and how must business leaders react to the prevailing political and social conditions?

In addition, while corporates have always tried to steer clear of commenting on the political events of the day, should they not make an exception now considering that the very fabric of society is being torn apart and worse, shredded?

Agreed that many corporates worldwide still believe in the Dictum of the Late Milton Friedman, who famously proclaimed that the responsibility of business is business yet, should not businesses now take a stand against the bigotry and the negativity, because after all, when societies are threatened, the foundations on which the businesses rest is also shaken.

Therefore, the argument that businesses and business leaders stay out of reacting and commenting and more importantly, actualising strategies to alleviate some of the consequences of the current discourse holds good now.

Why the Present Times Make it Difficult for the Business Leaders who speak up?

Having said that, it must also be noted that the race to bottom strategies that politicians in cahoots with corporates worldwide are engaging in leads to even well meaning business leaders being circumspect about reacting to the events of the times.

For instance, in India, in the recent past, eminent and iconic business leaders such as NR Narayana Murthy, Rahul Bajaj, and Anand Mahindra , have realised that speaking out comes at a price.

They have either found themselves as the targets of vicious social media trolls or have had their Philanthropic Foundations and their licenses being cancelled for speaking out.

Indeed, this is the reason why one must re-evaluate how businesses and business leaders must behave in such times.

On the other hand, for those few brave and courageous celebrities who took a stand, they found themselves the targets of ire and the victims of boycott of their brands and services.

For instance, it has been the trend in recent years to call for boycott of anyone who dares to speak out and this can be seen worldwide including in India where Bollywood celebrities and some businesses such as Zomato have been the target of the so-called Cancel Culture wherein Netizens often cancel their orders from these businesses as well as return their products.

Businesses and Business Leaders Must Act before it is too Late

On the other hand, this must not be a reason to not speak out as acquiescing with the prevailing mood means that sooner or later, one has to pick sides.

Of course, there are many (indeed, the majority) of corporates and business leaders who are egging on the prevailing discourse aimed at marginalising the already marginalised.

Perhaps these businesses and the business leaders are the true inheritors of Milton Friedman’s legacy wherein their obsession with profits at all costs and any price leads them to co-opt themselves with the politicians the establishment in all countries.

Moreover, as can be seen in the exuberant profits that some corporations make and the stratospheric stock markets, perhaps being on the side of the prevailing discourse is good for business.

Indeed, this has been the case for decades now as corporates have found that high sounding terms such as Corporate Social Responsibility must be restricted to the Optics of the events and not to any genuine attempt at reform.

Why Leading Icons of Industry Must Refocus Their Philanthropic Activities

Therefore, it goes without saying that the present times are such that CSR exists only on paper. And those business leaders such as Bill Gates and Azim Premji who have bequeathed almost their entire humungous fortunes to charity and helping the poor do so in non controversial (to the prevailing narrative) aspects such as Health and Education.

While this is entirely laudable as these areas remain points of concern for all, perhaps it is also time that such Icons of Industry donated more to the causes that are at odds with the establishment.

Moreover, these Billionaires command so much respect and awe among legions of their followers that any stand taken by them would surely help the CSR as well as Society in general.

In other words, what we are saying is that instead of solely focusing on a few areas, corporates and business leaders can also turn their attention to issues such as Climate Change, Environmental Pollution, and the ever present and increasing income inequalities.

Thus, this can be construed as an Appeal to their Conscience to act according to the dictates of their Inner Voice and do something that would outlast them and leave a legacy that future generations can be proud of.


Last, it goes without saying that the concept of CSR must be debated afresh in these troubled times and there is a need by all stakeholders to engage with each other and ensure that corporates do not become the ones that tacitly and overtly support the prevailing narrative.

Moreover, there is also a need to act before it is too late to Save the Planet.

To conclude, businesses and business leaders have a responsibility towards society and it is high time they broadened their focus to encompass larger concerns about the world.

❮❮   Previous Next   ❯❯

Authorship/Referencing - About the Author(s)

The article is Written and Reviewed by Management Study Guide Content Team. MSG Content Team comprises experienced Faculty Member, Professionals and Subject Matter Experts. We are a ISO 2001:2015 Certified Education Provider. To Know more, click on About Us. The use of this material is free for learning and education purpose. Please reference authorship of content used, including link(s) to and the content page url.

Corporate Social Responsibility