The idea of Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, first appeared in the late 1960s in response to the need for businesses to address the effect of their pursuits on the environment and society, in addition to the interests of their shareholders. CSR attempts to portray corporations as responsible citizens who are concerned with issues of social and environmental welfare.
CSR argues that corporations bear responsibility for the effect they have on other sectors of society. The activities of corporations have an impact on individuals who don't work for them and don't buy their products, through, for example, secondary economic impacts and degradation of the natural environment. CSR acknowledges this, and attempts to make the interactions between corporations and society positive and productive. This can be done by consulting with neighbors and citizens who are affected by corporate activities and by striving for transparency in corporate pursuits so that the public knows what is going on.
Increased knowledge on the part of the public about declining resources, toxic waste and global warming is compelling companies to make more efforts to be more environmentally benign. The traditional view that the natural world is merely a source of materials and an equally convenient dump for waste is being challenged from many quarters, and CSR is an attempt by corporations to respond to these concerns. The sincerity of changes being made on the part of corporations includes some serious efforts to achieve sustainability and other efforts that are essentially "greenwashing," activities in which corporations put more effort into appearing green than into actually being green.
CSR challenges the traditional wisdom that the interests and needs of the clients of a corporation will be adequately protected by the market itself. Because the free market has been severely compromised by a combination of government subsidies and manipulative marketing practices, CSR attempts to remedy this situation by installing practices into corporate life that will monitor the interaction between corporations and their clients in an attempt to ensure that nobody is being exploited or cheated. Consumer protection can be enforced by the government or voluntarily pursued by companies, the latter course have clear advantages for the public relations of the company.
Staff and employees of corporations have a right to expect fair pay, safe working conditions and meaningful work. CSR is one aspect of a transformation in the corporate world that attempts to overcome archaic views of workers as mere means to an end on the part of shareholders. Particularly in less developed countries that are often the sites of intensive resource extraction, the treatment of labor is frequently substandard. CSR is intended to promote the rights of all workers and to ensure that corporations respect these rights and make whatever changes are required to prevent the exploitation and mistreatment of labor.