Nondiscrimination is a cornerstone of many CSR programs and a fundamental tenet of employment laws. However, for some, social responsibility and religion are inextricably intertwined creating a contradiction for CSR proponents. David W. Miller, Ph.D., Head of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture and professor of Business Ethics at Yale Divinity School and Yale School of Management, makes the following observation:

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.

CSR programs may benefit from the “faith-at-work” movement. Religion’s growing influence in business and government is reflected in faith-based and community initiatives like Bush’s Executive Order 13342 or Obama’s plans to “to build a ‘real’ partnership between faith-based organizations and the White House” if he becomes president.   Companies face challenges as the lines blur between CSR programs and religious practice at work.

For some “faith-friendly companies” , there isn’t a distinction between social responsiblity and religious practice.   For example, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, there are businesses that are not on the cutting edge of technology, that aren’t familiar with the latest HR buzz words like outsourcing, SOX, etc., and that will never access the internet to read this or any other blog. Yet companies adopting this “business model” are substantial contributors to the local economy, take “going green” to a completely new level, and make social responsibility a way of life. 

Amish businesses have no corporate policy on social responsibility, but these businesses make the same sorts of contributions to community and environment that Starbucks reports in its mission statement on corporate responsibility. The Amish community lives off-the-grid and takes care of one another. Typically using windmills to pump water and a horse and buggy for their daily commute, they have no need to purchase Renewable Energy Credits to meet environmental goals. They have no health insurance; do not participate in government programs like social security and welfare. If someone needs help, the community provides it. Businesses may close so employees may engage in social service like a barn raising for family in the community.

Extreme for modern businesses…yes. However, there may be take-aways for any business evaluating a CSR program:

  • Initiatives may need to be “systemic”
  • Keep them simple
  • Emphasize community
  • Reject Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and Value Demut (humility)