Social transformation is unpredictable. New technologies and modes of production indicate that social innovation is necessary, but they say little about the exact nature of the ensuing social change. The pressures for change often originate from different and unconnected sources and only after the necessary passage of time it may become clear which among them - technological, economic, ideological, political or cultural - has made the critically important contribution and how they eventually get into a new social reality. Calls for a generalized change of paradigm can be useful as a means of pressure yet they usually do not contribute much in real terms. A careful analysis of praxis is necessary to discern the elements of change and to propose the desired direction.
The present volume tries to precisely explore a wide array of evolving practices which tend to strengthen social responsibility in various areas of economy and social services with the objective to help developing them into a coherent system of thought on the social responsibility needed today.
The analytical work done by the authors of the chapters in this book has to be considered in a wider context. In addition to the focus on specific aspects of social responsibility the authors express a strong link with some of the most important phenomena of social and economic development in our era.
The first and perhaps the foremost among them is the growing awareness of the need to develop a proper understanding of social responsibility as a vital requirement to overcome the current economic crisis and to open new horizons of development. This need is expressed by a wide variety of social and international actors. The voices of activists of the "Occupy Wall Street" and the "Indignados" on the one hand, and the analysts of the World Economic Forum on the other warn about the same problems, although not always in exactly the same language. For example, the World Economic Forum identified, in its global risks report 2013, "a severe and growing income disparity" as one of the two main risks threatening the global economy and international community and the other being environmental degradation. This clear indication of a fundamentally dangerous social problem today calls for serious search of credible responses.
The fact that the World Economic Forum, hardly an organization known for social sensitivity and care for the poor and the excluded, put the problem of dramatic and growing income disparity among the main threats to the world, suggests that the problem has become obvious. However, its extent and corrosive nature have yet to be fully understood. Oxfam, probably one of the most experienced organizations in this field, has recently explained that the existing levels of inequality between the poor and the extremely wealthy have already become economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive. This realization is gaining ground not only among the humanitarians such as Oxfam, but also among the hard-nosed economists.
The above diagnoses are not coming as a surprise. The problem of extreme income disparity is a result of the type of development which has been prevailing over the past three decades. Profit making has been considered not only as the key to economic progress, but also as the only economically relevant form of social responsibility. Social responsibility has for a generation gone out of fashion as a value per se: it was considered, mainly, as a by-product of profit and growth. Globalization, that object of admiration of economic optimists, was welcomed as a tide that will lift all boats. Social progress was expected to come as an automatic consequence of growth. Rarely in recent history has "trickle down theory" enjoyed such an unquestioned support of the dominant economic commentators as well as of policy makers.
The financial and economic crisis in the West which started in 2007 has brought the era of unbridled economic optimism to an end. Economic tasks are increasingly seen in a conjunction with the tasks of social transformation and the question of social responsibility of business and of economic policy makers in general is becoming central in this context.
However, two notes of caution are necessary here. First, the basic function of profit in economic development remains. At present, market economy represents the only viable model of economic development. The question is how to modify its functioning so as to ensure that profit making serves the society and not vice versa. Second, the idea of social responsibility, while unfashionable, has never been entirely absent. Even at the time of the domination of the free market ideology there have been projects which gave specific expression to the idea of social responsibility of business leaders and policy makers.
A good example was set by the "Global Compact" initiated by Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary- General, at the meeting of business leaders in Davos in January 1999. The participants were invited to introduce, on their own volition, good practices in the areas of labour standards, human rights, anti-corruption and environmental protection and engage with the UN for that purpose. Obviously, accepting such an approach means a certain burden on the competitiveness of the companies in the short run. However, it brings dividends over time. It strengthens the sense of social responsibility of the business sector and helps putting global markets on a fairer and more sustainable footing. Since 1999 more than 10.000 businesses and other stakeholders from 145 countries have joined in this initiative and it is hoped that the experience gained will help changing business culture worldwide. The initiative also stimulates creativity with regard to social responsibility of business and helps directing it into the mainstream of business thinking and, hopefully, in the broader public opinion.
The example of the UN Global Compact shows that a general aspiration for higher levels of social responsibility exists. However, the debate still leaves much to be desired. The present book is a contribution to this much needed debate. It reflects the relevant experience from the recent past. It addresses the nature of the current crisis and the key conditions for the needed change: the need for new economic paradigms, the relevance of the rule of law, as well as the various theoretical aspects necessary for addressing the issues of social responsibility comprehensively. Moreover, it delves into the experience of socially responsible management in various areas, including in social services provided by the state. It is particularly valuable that the authors discussed the relevant issues on the basis of specific experience and history of transition from the former socialist self-management model of development to the existing market economies. Nothing was perfect in this history. But good knowledge of the actual experience of transition is a necessary condition for the identification of new solutions.
The analysis offered in this volume provides a good platform for discussion which needs to address the question of social responsibility in a holistic manner: The critique has to include all aspects of transition, while the proposals for the future have to embrace both the business sector and the system of social services provided by the state and by other actors. When the full picture is presented it might become possible to offer convincing answers to the questions raised by the civil society, which is protesting against severe income disparity and demanding social justice today, as well as to propose directions to guide the policy makers in the future.
Professor of Interntional Law
University of Ljubljana
Former President of the Republic of Slovenia
Former Top Official of United Nations Organization
The triple common denominator of social responsibility reads (ISO 26000; EU, 2011):.
Social responsibility is one's responsibility for one’s impacts on society, meaning other humans and their organizations, rather than one-self only.
Social responsibility is based on interdependence, meaning respecting the fact that nobody exists and works independently, except legally, but completing each other up by natural and professional special features.
Social responsibility is aimed at holistic approach, meaning that the humankind must give up exaggerated one-sidedness, which has been prevailing over the recent decades and centuries under the cover of the market fundamentalism and producing monopolies and related abuse, ruining the market forces and the concept of the French and American revolution: equality, brotherhood and freedom.
Along these lines this book includes results of very many quite different investigations from several professions and several countries. Economics, education, environmental care, law, management, philosophy, politics, qualitative and quantitative methodologies, sustainable development (by ABC order of the tackled scientific disciplines and practices) are the professions covered. Australia, Austria, Brazil, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, UK, USA (by ABC order of 12 countries of 47 authors) make their various contributions. Both varieties are supposed to make the volume match the three criteria of social responsibility resumed above.
All three criteria of social responsibility offer a crucial difference from the practice of neoliberalism that has over recent decades built something that looks like a crucial progress of the entire world; though, data about debts, unsolved huge differences in socio-economic development of areas of the world, unsolved huge differences among the rich and the poor inside the same western countries (that behave and act as role models of the contemporary life), unsolved crisis of affluence (after 2007), etc. are showing the actually poor success of neoliberalism. The background of this poor – long-term – success results from three basic attributes, which social responsibility attacks and tries to replace: exaggerated selfishness, short-term and narrow-minded criteria of socio-economic success, prevailing of ethics of independence/domination by power-holders and rich ones, and ethics of dependence/subordination of the others, no holistic approach. If the market worked in, line with Adam Smith’s definition, i.e. interdependence supportive of holistic and longer-term approach, there would be much less necessity for the new concept of social responsibility.
The same basic facts are also the basic reasons for social responsibility to explicitly no longer be limited to charity, which might be ascribed to contents of social responsibility in pre-industrial society
Once social responsibility is no longer limited to charity, now-a-days linked with marketing communication very often one may see social responsibility also as a source of socio-economic benefit. Honesty toward partners, be them suppliers, costumers, co-workers, teachers, students, patients, natural preconditions of survival of humans and other natural species, etc., pays for several reasons that are expressed – in economic terms – in prevention of costs that result from repairing, or making up, for wrong-deeds, e.g. opportunity costs and benefits.
Thus, social responsibility requires modernization of human values, culture, ethic and norms toward prevention of one’s destructive impacts over others, toward practicing of interdependence and toward increasing the level of holism of one’s behavior. Market remains important, but must prevent monopolies, therefore needing government, which again may not support any-ones’ monopolies and privileges and must help the market prevent power-holders’ abuse to the detriment of the others. Social responsibility does not prevent the entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurship in general, but it does oppose the destructive entrepreneurship.
Social responsibility does not prevent or replace the use of law, but it does oppose the abuse of law and its one-sidedness rather than full justice based on holistic approach.
Hence, social responsibility is not only a necessary value, culture, ethic and norm, but also a quite radical non-technological invention-innovation-diffusion process. It is a demanding novelty with no real alternative, once the neo-liberal socio-economic theory and practice shows no capability to solve the humankind’s problems which it has caused by its prevention of ethics of interdependence, holistic approach and one’s responsibility for one’s impacts on society.
Hence, we hope this volume to encourage additional actions for development of social responsibility in order to solve the current socio-economic crisis; its essence lies in obsolete values of neoliberalism instead of liberalism. Let us be less (short-term and narrow-minded) selfish for (longer-term and broad-minded) selfish reasons, i.e. for survival of humankind!
We, coeditors of the book thank Prof. Dr. Danilo Türk, former President of the Republic of Slovenia and Assistant Secretary General of United Nations Organization, for his foreword. We also thank IRDO Institute for Development of Social Responsibility for all poorly visible help in making of this volume. IRDO could be considered a co-publisher of it.
University of Maribor
Robert G. Dyck
List of Contributors
University of Maribor
Robert G. Dyck