In a modern context, the history of social responsibility can be traced to a now infamous article by Milton Friedman published in 1970. In the New York Times, this Nobel-Prize-winning economist wrote that social responsibility is a "fundamentally subversive doctrine in a free society.” He believed that the only responsibility that a corporation has is to the shareholder.
A counterpoint to Friedman’s perspective comes from John Elkington in Cannibals with Forks in 1999. Elkington introduced the concept of the “triple bottom line,” making the case that concern for society and the environment can coexist with an ambition for profits.
Since these early debates and transformative moments, social responsibility has gained traction and credibility. Trends have moved from corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, to sustainable development, to sustainability, to social responsibility (SR).
As a demonstration of activity and participation in social responsibility initiatives, there are 1.7 million feet certifying per day around the world through the United States Green Building Council’s LEEDS program. Additionally, more than 6,800 companies and organizations participate in sustainability reporting through the Global Reporting Initiative.
It is important for quality professionals to understand the history of social responsibility; there are many similarities to the quality movement.
In the early days of quality there were debates about quality costs and everyone’s responsibility to quality as opposed to end-of-the-line inspection. The social responsibility movement started with debates about a corporation having any responsibility to society. It is now recognized that people, planet, and profit are mutually inclusive. Just as quality leads to profit, responsibility leads to sustainable profit.
Quality ideals such as those promoted by W. Edwards Deming in his 14 Points and Genichi Taguchi with the quality loss function apply to social responsibility. Sustainability is an ideal state, as is quality an ideal state. The aims and ideals of social responsibility, as a path to sustainability, make SR a natural and progressive extension of the quality practitioner’s professional competency.
Introduction to Corporate Social Responsibility, United Nations Institute for Training and Research, http://www.unitar.org/event/introduction-corporate-social-responsibility