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[HBR] Research has shown that companies with effective Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are more profitable than those that aren’t. Over the last 50 years, corporations have relied on these programs, which include social issue marketingphilanthropic efforts, employee volunteer initiatives, and diversity and inclusion work, to build their brands and satisfy customers.

Now, consumers and employees are raising the bar. The killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis has driven one of the largest protest movements in recent memory, and the widespread reactions to the standard CSR playbook suggest that old best practices may no longer work. Consumers and employees are now looking for more than Corporate Social Responsibility — they’re looking for what I call Corporate Social Justice.

Corporate Social Justice is a reframing of CSR that centers the focus of any initiative or program on the measurable, lived experiences of groups harmed and disadvantaged by society. CSR is a self-regulated framework that has no legal or social obligation for corporations to actually create a positive impact on the groups they purport to help. Corporate Social Justice is a framework regulated by the trust between a company and its employees, customers, shareholders, and the broader community it touches, with the goal of explicitly doing good by all of them. Where CSR is often realized through a secondary or even vanity program tacked onto a company’s main business, Corporate Social Justice requires deep integration with every aspect of the way a company functions.

The need for this fundamental shift has become more apparent over the last few years. AT&T, which won a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in 2017, was widely criticized for donating more than $2.5 million to anti-gay politicians that same year. Toms, whose one-for-one giving model won widespread accolades, eventually scrapped its model after it was revealed that its donations had disrupted local economies and producers. Amazon, which recently tweeted a statement expressing solidarity with Black communities, was immediately criticized for its selling of facial-recognition technology to law enforcement agencies and extreme underrepresentation of Black professionals. (Amazon later announced a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition technology.)

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Consumers and other stakeholders want companies that see social good as a necessity, not just a marketing strategy. It’s up to companies to respond to this new challenge.

Here’s how: …

By Lily Zheng

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