British Parliament passes the Joint Stock Companies Act, allowing companies to incorporate without a royal charter or an Act of Parliament.
Parliament passes the Limited Liability Act of 1855, establishing the principle that any corporation could enjoy limited legal liability on both contract and tort claims simply by registering as a "limited" company with the appropriate government agency.
In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, the US Supreme Court rules that corporations could be recognized as persons for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, giving them the right of privacy but also the right to be sued, enter into a contract, contribute funds as part of corporate lobbying, pay tax (and not pay tax) etc.
1930 - 1940: In US: first corporate responsibility texts (1935 ->): New Deal and welfare state.
1945 - 1959: Nationalization (Europe), state enterprise (former colonies, Communist Bloc); post-war consensus (US).
Howard Bowen publishes Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, and coins the phrase ‘corporate social responsibility'.
1960 - 1969 Trends and highlights:
Return of business and society debate
Ethical climate: social unrest. Anti-war sentiment. Employees have an adversarial relationship with management. Values shift away from loyalty to an employer to loyalty to ideals. Old values are cast aside.
Ethical dilemmas: environmental issues; increased employee-employer tension; civil rights issues dominate; honesty; the work ethic changes; drug use escalates.
Business ethics developments: companies begin establishing codes of conduct and values statements. Birth of social responsibility movement. Corporations address ethics issues through legal or personnel departments.
George Goyder publishes The Responsible Company, proposing that social audits can act as both useful management tools and offer “stakeholders a platform for challenging and influencing companies.”
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) created.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, widely credited with launching the environmental movement, documents detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly on birds. Carson accuses the chemical industry of spreading disinformation, and public officials of accepting industry claims uncritically.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the UN.
Club of Rome commissions a study of global proportions analyzing the relationship between industrial production, population, environmental damage, food consumption, and natural resource usage
UNESCO provides a forum Conference for Rational Use and Conservation of Biosphere for early discussions on the concept of ecologically sustainable development.
1970 - 1980 Trends and highlights:
Shift from responsibility of leaders to responsibility of companies.
Council on Economic Priorities (along with many others in the US) begin to rate companies publicly on their social and environmental performance.
Greenpeace is the first major Non-Governmental Organization to adopt policies which shift the emphasis towards the corporate sector and away from governments.
United Nations Code of Practice for Transnational Corporations attempts to define CSR business principles in terms of ethics, product standards, competition, marketing and disclosure of information.
Ethical climate: Defence contractors and other major industries riddled by scandal. The economy suffers through recession. Unemployment escalates. There are heightened environmental concerns. The public pushes to make businesses accountable for ethical shortcomings.
Ethical dilemmas: Employee militancy (employee versus management mentality). Human rights issues surface (forced labour, sub-standard wages, unsafe practices). Some firms choose to cover rather than correct dilemmas.
Business ethics developments: Compliance with laws high-lighted. Values movement begins to move ethics from compliance orientation to being "values centred".
Founding of Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), the largest corporate-led social development foundation in the Philippines and the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.
UN holds a Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. The concept of sustainable development is argued in an effort to resolve the ‘environment vs. development’ dilemma
1975 - 1989 Trends and highlights:
Debate about nature of responsibilities.
Corporate responsibility emerges as management practice (e.g. corporate social responsiveness).
US: Ethics Resource Center founded; Federal Corrupt Practices Act passed.
1980 - 1989 Trends and highlights:
Introduction of stakeholder theory.
Ethical climate: The social contract between employers and employees is redefined. Defense contractors are required to conform to stringent rules. Corporations downsize and employees' attitudes about loyalty to the employer are eroded. Health care ethics emphasized.
Ethical dilemmas: Bribes and illegal contracting practices. Influence peddling. Deceptive advertising. Financial fraud (savings and loan scandal). Transparency issues arise.
Business ethics developments: In US, Ethics Resource Centre develops the US Code of Ethics for Government Service (1980) and forms first business ethics office at General Dynamics (1985). Defense Industry Initiative established (1986). Some companies create ombudsman positions in addition to ethics officer roles. False Claims Act (government contracting) amended to incorporate employment protection for whistleblowers.
World Conservation Strategy is released by IUCN. The section “Towards Sustainable Development” identifies the major culprits of habitat destruction, and calls for a new International Development Strategy aimed at rectifying the problems.
Business in the Community established in the UK by companies such as IBM, BP, Shell, Marks and Spencer, and Barclays Bank.
Tylenol contamination scare in US prompts pharmaceutical companies to develop tamper-resistant packaging in response to new FDA standards for drug safety.
Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India leaks toxic gas killing 2,000 and injuring 150,000.
CSR becomes part of business management theory.
Institute of Business Ethics launched in UK.
Brundtland Commission publishes report Our Common Future. The report is considered a landmark as it introduces the concept of sustainable development and defines it as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Montreal Protocol to protect ozone layer opened for signature; ratified by 196 states as of 2011.
Corporate Responsibility Group established in UK.
The Green Consumer Guide published by Julia Hailes, selling over 1 million copies. Revised edition (by Joel Makower, John Elkington, and Julia Hailes) published 1993.
PM Margaret Thatcher delivers environmental speech to Conservative party conference 14 Oct 1988: "no generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy - with full repairing lease".
Exxon Valdez tanker runs aground in Alaska and spills 11m gallons of crude oil.
In response to the Brundtland Report, non-profit organization Natural Step is founded in Sweden in 1989 by scientist Karl-Henrik Robèrt, promoting sustainability in core business strategy.
Canada establishes the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
1990 - 1999 Trends and highlights:
Emergence of environmental management.
Focus on corporate social performance.
Global health emerges as a key social and business issue as the number living with HIV/AIDS worldwide rises to an estimated 8 million.
Stakeholder partnerships begin to emerge (1995 ->).
Ethical climate: Global expansion brings new ethical challenges. There are major concerns about child labour, facilitation payments (bribes), and environmental issues. The emergence of the Internet challenges cultural borders. What was forbidden becomes common.
Ethical dilemmas: Unsafe work practices in third world countries. Increased corporate liability for personal damage (e.g. cigarette companies, Dow Chemical). Financial mismanagement and fraud.
Business ethics developments: Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations (US, 1991); Class action lawsuits; Global Sullivan Principles (1999). Ethics Resource Center establishes international business ethics centres. Royal Dutch Shell International begins issuing annual reports on their ethical performance.
International Business Leaders Forum established as an independent, global not-for-profit organisation working with companies on the responsible business and sustainability agenda.
London Business School Professor Charles Handy’s RSA Lecture ("What is a Company for?") sets out a vision for making companies more sustainable.
Café Direct is founded by Oxfam, Traidcraft, Equal Exchange and Twin Trading in support of coffee farmers suffering as result of prices falling to a 30-year low.
Businesses participate for the first time in the UN Conference on Environment and Development alongside NGOs and Governments to help guide world affairs.
Earth Summit is held in Rio de Janeiro. The Summit establishes the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, outlining 27 principles supporting sustainable development. They also agree upon a plan of action, Agenda 21, and recommend that all countries put forth national sustainable development strategies.
Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) is established in USA with early members including Ben and Jerry’s and Tom’s of Maine.
In Vienna, The World Conference on Human Rights is held, highlighting the “right of people to a healthy environment and the right to development".
Canada launches the Whitehorse Mining Initiative (WMI), one of the first multi-stakeholder initiatives to officially acknowledge that companies would be compelled to deal with sustainable development issues as well as establishing a sustainable vision for the industry.
Financial Times publishes its first report on Responsible Business.
In response to an appeal by EC President Jacques Delors, Glaverbel, Levis, BP, Accor, Philips, Bayer, BT, the London Enterprise Agency, the Manifeste Français des Entreprises contre l'Exclusion and Uniapac - with coordination by Patrick Venturini and Jan Noterdaeme for the European Commission - define the principles, areas of action and examples for business involvement in joint efforts against social exclusion in Europe.
John Elkington of SustainAbility coins the phrase "Triple Bottom Line" to describe the use of economic, ecological and social criteria to define organisational and societal success.
Twenty business leaders and Jacques Delors adopt and announce the European Business Declaration against Social Exclusion, calling for the development of a European network for the exchange of information and experience.
Shell UK forced to back down on scrapping of Brent Spar oil platform at sea following Greenpeace media campaign.
Nigerian military government executes Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland by operations of the multinational petroleum industry, especially Shell.
WICE merged with BCSD to form the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
RSA "Tomorrow’s Company" Report published in the UK.
Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) is founded to motivate and support businesses in improving performance and sustainability.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) sets up a permanent base in Geneva with business leadership to inspire change toward sustainable development.
OECD introduces the concept of environmentally sustainable transportation (EST) at Vancouver Conference March 1996.
BP accused of human rights violations in Colombia over security operations to protect its Casanare oil field with reserves valued at $40 billion.
CSR Europe established (initially as the European Business Network for Social Cohesion) in January 1996 by a group of 57 European companies signing a declaration against social exclusion. Their main goal is “to help companies achieve profitability, sustainable growth and human progress by placing corporate social responsibility in the mainstream of business practice”.
California activist and runner Mark Kasky accuses Nike of lying in broadly benign statements about manufacturing "sweatshops" in developing world.
Santa Cruz juice company Odwalla suffers £. coli outbreak but recovers following prompt product recall and is eventually acquired by The Coca-Cola Company in 2001.
Danish Government convenes major international conference on social cohesion which leads to establishment of Copenhagen Centre for CSR (later the Danish Centre for CSR).
CSR Europe members launch European Year against Racism, mobilising a network of companies to share best practice, create new knowledge and tools to address discrimination at work and in the community.
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) established as an independent non-profit organization with an ecolabel and fishery certification programme to 'reward sustainable fishing practices’.
A UN conference is held to review the implementation of Agenda 21 (Rio+5). This reiterates that all countries should have sustainable development strategies established - especially by the time of the next review in 2002 (Rio+10).
The Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is established as an international treaty on climate change. Ratifying countries committing to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases or engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of these gases.
The Global Reporting Initiative is launched with a mission to develop and disseminate globally applicable sustainability reporting guidelines.
Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business by John Elkington is published, introducing the 'triple bottom line' concept to a wider audience
Launch of CSR Europe's online resource centre.
European Union establishes a moratorium on approval of genetically modified crops as the result of public anxiety over introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the food chain. In parallel, Monsanto initiates litigation for patent infringement against individual US farmers using their genetically modified seeds in crops.
Global Witness publishes A Rough Trade, exposing the role of diamonds in funding the civil war in Angola and thrusting the secretive practices of the global diamond industry into the spotlight for the first time.
Mass protest activity surrounds the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference of 1999, which was to be the launch of a new millennial round of trade negotiations.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in an address to The World Economic Forum, implores business leaders to join the Global Compact, an international initiative that would team companies up with UN agencies to support principles in the areas of human rights, labour and the environment
UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs publishes The World at Six Billion, capturing the salient characteristics of past, current and future world population growth.
Committee of Inquiry into a New Vision for Business is launched by Anita Roddick (Body Shop) and Tony Blair.
2000 - 2010 Trends and highlights:
Business role in poverty alleviation and promotion of sustainability emerge as major themes
Ethical climate: Unprecedented economic growth is followed by financial failures. Ethics issues destroy some high profile firms. Personal data is collected and sold openly. Hackers and data thieves plague businesses and government agencies. Acts of terror and aggression occur internationally.
Ethical dilemmas: Cyber crime. Privacy issues (data mining). Financial mismanagement. International corruption. Loss of privacy - employees versus employers. Intellectual property theft. The role of business in promoting sustainable development.
Business ethics developments: Business regulations mandate stronger ethical safeguards (US Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations; UK Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002). Anti-corruption efforts grow. Stronger emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility and Integrity Management. OECD Convention on Bribery (1997-2000). UN Convention Against Corruption (2003); UN Global Compact adopts 10th principle against corruption (2004). Revised Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations (2004). Increased emphasis on evaluating ethics program effectiveness.
No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies by Naomi Klein published, becoming one of the most influential books about the anti-globalization movement and an international bestseller.
UN Global Compact launched at World Economic Forum in Davos by Kofi Annan to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation.
UN member states and international organizations commit to achieve eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - including eradicating extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS, and developing a global partnership for development - by the year 2015.
BBC TV documentary reports that hundreds of thousands of children in Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo have been purchased from their parents and sold as slaves to cocoa farmers in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire supplying chocolate manufacturers such as Mars, Hersey and Cadbury.
An international conference, Partners for Progress: Towards a New Approach to Corporate Social Responsibility, is held in Paris at OECD Headquarters, highlighting the need for businesses to adopt socially responsible behaviour in an effort to move forward towards sustainable local development.
UK Government appoints Kim Howells as world's first Minister for CSR.
Chiquita, the International Unions for Food Workers (IUF) and the Coordinating Committee of Banana Workers' Unions (COLSIBA) sign an Agreement on Freedom of Association, Minimum Labour Standards and Employment in Latin American Banana Operations, committing Chiquita to supporting the ILO Core Conventions and to a framework for dialogue.
FTSE Group launches the FTSE4Good Index, a series of ethical investment stock market indices.
CSR Europe co-organises Conference of the Belgian Presidency of the European Union, putting CSR on the European Agenda.
Patent infringement court case brought by 39 pharmaceutical companies against South African Government collapses, enabling the Health Minister to override patent laws in a health emergency.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) deputises its Consumer Policy Committee (COPOLCO) to begin investigating the case for establishing a CSR standard.
European Commission launches a European strategy and Action Framework for promoting CSR.
CSR Europe and the Copenhagen Centre team up with universities and business schools across Europe to found the European Academy of Business in Society.
Ten years after the Earth Summit in Rio, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg re-focuses attention on achieving the UN's Agenda 21 sustainability goals.
The collapse of US energy giant Enron and telecoms provider WorldCom due to corporate fraud focuses attention on accounting practices and activities of many other US corporations and leads to creation of the Sarbanes Oxley Act, setting new or enhanced standards for all US public company boards, management and public accounting firms.
In Japan, more than 14,000 people became ill after consuming milk or related products sold by Snow Brand Milk Products Co., the worst case of food poisoning in Japan, prompting criticism of the company's failure to issue a prompt product recall.
Business in the Community develops and launches its Corporate Responsibility Index in consultation with over 80 companies.
Multinational Italian dairy and food corporation Parmalat collapses in Europe's biggest bankruptcy, stemming largely from the use of derivatives to hide the extent of its losses and debt.
Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) is launched to certify the origin of rough diamonds from sources which are free of conflict funded by diamond production.
Business in the Community publishes the results of its first ever Corporate Responsibility (CR) Index.
The Conference Board of Canada publishes Managing Risks, Leveraging Opportunities, Canada’s first national corporate social responsibility report, with a detailed analysis of the CSR management practices from 53 of Canada’s largest companies.
Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in November by 55 Parties accounting for at least 55% of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 brings the treaty into effect 90 days later.
Local officials in Kerala, southwest India shut down a $16 million Coke bottling plant blamed for a drastic decline in both quantity and quality of water available to local farmers and villagers.
Academy Award-winning documentary Super Size Me explores the fast food industry's corporate influence, including how it encourages poor nutrition for its own profit.
Canadian documentary film The Corporation critiques the behaviour of the modern-day corporation towards society and the world at large.
Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami triggers a wide range of corporate and other forms of humanitarian response.
A record-breaking hurricane season - including Hurricane Katrina in August (the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States), Hurricane Rita in September (the fourth-most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded) and Hurricane Wilma in October (the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin) - focuses business, as well as government and media, attention on the growing scale and impact of natural disasters.
UNAIDS documents 40 million living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, with 5 million new infections documented in 2005.
Ian Davis, worldwide managing director of McKinsey & Company, argues in The Economist that by building social issues into strategy, big business can recast the debate about its role.
Numerous feature films and documentaries focus attention on corporate misconduct including The Constant Gardener; Syriana; Good Night, and Good Luck; North Country; Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; McLibel and Source (Zdroj).
Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth - about former United States Vice President Al Gore's campaign to educate citizens about global warming - becomes the sixth-highest-grossing documentary film to date in the United States and dramatically raises public awareness of the climate change debate.
Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter and Mark Kramer's article "Strategy and Society: Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility" is published in Harvard Business Review.
In China, search engine giant Google becomes embroiled in controversy when it agrees to purge its search results of any Web sites not sanctioned by the Chinese government.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore share the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".
One Planet Business published by WWF, offering "a new framework to measure both levels of resource consumption by business and society, and the consequent challenge in bringing these impacts back within the limits of our one planet".
Report of Tomorrow's Global Company 18-month inquiry by a team of businesses and NGOs, "detailing challenges of environment and resource depletion, and issues such as justice and poverty and describing the role global enterprises can and must play in response to these challenges".
Playfair Alliance study alleges official goods bearing the logo of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games have been made in factories utilising child labour.
Following an independent panel investigation into a 2005 fire and explosion at BP's Texas City Refinery, the Baker Panel Report and OSHA document over 300 safety violations, fining BP $21 million - the largest fine in OSHA history at the time.
UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) launched at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit by Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon.
UN Human Rights Council adopts a resolution stating that “transnational corporations and other business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights”.
PRME is endorsed by more than 100 business schools around the world.
Nearly 9 in 10 respondents to the BSR/Cone 2008 Corporate Responsibility in a New World Survey believe President-Elect Obama will help advance the CR agenda, and indicated the anticipation of increased governmental regulation of corporate responsibility issues under the new administration.
2008 Cone/Duke University Behavioral Cause Study and the 2008 Cone Cause Evolution Study document 25 years of cause-related marketing.
Business in the Community publishes Legal & General/Ipsos MORI research documenting a statistically significant link between effective management and governance of environmental and social issues and financial performance.
At the first Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, held at the United Nations headquarters in New York, 260 business school leaders from 43 countries discuss how academic institutions can instill a sense of social responsibility in future business leaders who can then bring those ethics into the corporate world.
In the midst of recession, a survey by Boston College's Center for Corporate Citizenship finds that half of companies believe corporate citizenship will "become more critical to corporate reputation and business success" while less than 10% forecast a lesser role.
ISO 26000 voluntary corporate responsibility standard launched covering 7 core subjects: organizational governance, human rights, labour practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, community involvement and development.
UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study 2010: 'Chief executives believe overwhelmingly that sustainability has become critical to their success, and could be fully embedded into core business within ten years'.
In The Responsibility Revolution, Jeffrey Hollender and Bill Breen set out their 'road map for re-imaging companies from within: innovating new ways of working; instilling a new logic of competing; redefining the very purpose and possibility of business'.
In Big Business, Big Responsibilities, Andy Wales, Matthew Gorman and Dunstan Hope that some leading global companies are already among the visionaries when it comes to tackling poverty, addressing climate change and protecting human rights but that there remains a great deal more to do if sustainability goals are to be achieved.
Corporate Responsibility Trends 2010 survey by Burson-Marsteller highlights a new drive by business to address climate change issues; human rights challenges and opportunities for companies tracking the impact of their practices and operations on local communities; development of CSR reporting to encompass the supply chain and deployment of digital and social media tools, private sector-led CSR initiatives and more entrepreneurial and local strategic philanthropy.
Toyota Motor Corporation issues three product recalls during late 2009/early 2010 after problems with sticking accelerator pedals and anti-lock braking system. Despite heavy US media criticism and costs to the manufacturer, Toyota remained viewed favourably by 59% of Americans with 22% viewing Toyota very favourably.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill - following the fatal explosion of the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon drilling rig - becomes the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry and the second largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, behind the 1930-1936 Dust Bowl.
In the US, the Benefit Corporation is established as a new form of corporate entity that 1) has a corporate purpose to create a material positive impact on society and the environment; 2) redefines fiduciary duty to require consideration of non-financial interests when making decision; and 3) reports on its overall social and environmental performance using recognized third party standards.
Harvard Business Review (January): Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer advocate a 'creating shared value' approach to business based on the premise that corporate success and social welfare are interdependent.
January: In The Age of Responsibility, Wayne Visser articulates 'CSR 2.0' - based on five principles (creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity) and a 'new DNA model of responsible business', built around four elements of value creation, good governance, societal contribution and environmental integrity
Harvard Business Review (March)
Dominic Barton, Global Managing Director of McKinsey & Company, calls on businesses to lead reformation of the capitalist system before it is reformed for them.
KPMG’s Climate Change & Sustainability Services practice and The Economist Intelligence Unit publish Corporate sustainability: A progress report, finding that nearly 50% of all executives surveyed believe sustainability programs will contribute to their bottom line.
British lawyer-turned-campaigner Polly Higgins launches UK campaign for UN to accept "ecocide" as a "crime against peace" which could be tried at the International Criminal Court.
| 2012 ||BSR and WBCSD celebrate their 20th anniversaries |
BITC 30th anniversary
Business Action for Sustainable Development
WBCSD publish Changing Pace
Zeronauts, John Elkington
Rio+20 Summit in Brazil and 25th anniversary of the Brundtland Commission
50+20 report on future of management education
Financial Times "Capitalism in Crisis" series
| 2013 ||Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business |
UK’s Social Stock Exchange London
Sir Richard Branson’s B Team launches public discussion
Rana Plaza factory disaster and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety
State of Delaware enacts law for public benefit corporations (July 2013)
Carbon Disclosure Project, Climate Disclosure Standards Board and International Integrated Reporting Council announce collaboration (July 2013)
John Ruggie’s book Just Business
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