csr and religion?

Honestly, before I read this text, I never thought of the connection between faith and CSR, regardless of how logical it is… This text I found in the BSR.org`sLeading Perspective“, which is a quarterly publication. Very very interesting…

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Many in the corporate world would rather not bring religion into the boardroom. Fair enough, especially if the purpose is to misuse religion for selfish or inappropriate purposes. But if advocates of CSR are interested in finding new allies in the quest to encourage businesses to become more ethical and attentive to their responsibilities to a wide range of stakeholders, they should think anew about the role of faith in the workplace.

There are many reasons that leaders interested in CSR might reconsider the role of faith and business. First, if we look carefully at the so-called “big five” — the five main religious traditions and their offshoots (the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and Hinduism and Buddhism) — we quickly discover that each of these traditions and their holy teachings are very interested in the material world and how one takes care of it. Advocates of CSR might be pleasantly surprised to find that, for example, classic Jewish and Christian teachings accentuate a responsible tending of the garden (i.e. environmentalism), the decent treatment of workers (i.e. human rights) and attention
to the nature and purpose of work (i.e. goals other than maximization of shareholder returns).

Second, many adherents of these great traditions consciously or subconsciously ground their ethics — their understanding of right and wrong, good and evil, and beauty and falsehood — and their sense of life purpose in the teachings of their faith. If much of CSR is about going beyond the customs and dynamics of the marketplace, might not faith be a helpful resource to help business leaders and organizations think afresh about their duties to the broader community in which they live and work?

Finally, faith brings a different kind of vision. When one accepts the existence of a transcendent being or higher power, the result is that believers see the world differently. One sees beyond the immediate problem or pressure to meet quarterly returns. One’s sense of time is much more long term or, as theologians would say, eschatological, thinking of the eternal value of one’s work and how one does it. God is interested in what we do and how we do it; God values us doing creative, excellent work. But surely God is also interested in more than just earnings per share.

Of course, intentionally engaging the resources of faith to help business consider its wider responsibilities also brings certain risks that too often seem to accompany religion. Among these questions: What about different views, teachings and historic friction between different traditions? Can these be overcome? Is there more common ground than we think, and if so, how can that be tapped into and used in a business setting? Can faith help organizations rethink such important moral questions facing business today, such as economic development, sustainability, corruption, education and treatment of employees?

As I continue to study and conduct research into these questions, I conclude that faith is indeed a viable and valuable force that ought to be recognized as a legitimate resource for business leaders to draw upon. And while not without its challenges, I believe there are appropriate and respectful ways to draw on one’s faith in a pluralistic marketplace. Authentic faith might be precisely the new dimension needed for tomorrow’s global corporate leaders to succeed responsibly.

David W. Miller, Ph.D. is a former senior executive in international finance and partner in an investment banking firm. He now heads the Yale Center for Faith & Culture and teaches Business Ethics at Yale Divinity School and Yale School of Management, and advises CEOs on questions of values, ethics and faith in the workplace.

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