There has been an increasing trend in some parts of the world to focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR is a term frequently used to encompass a whole range of corporate activities but which fundamentally encompasses corporate self-regulation: how large corporates ensure that their businesses respect the law and certain ethical and moral standards and in many cases give something back to the community.
A good example is companies ensuring that their products are not made by children or people working in unsafe factories. This has impacted and raised standards in many countries which previously took a more relaxed approach to such concerns, with the rag trade in particular suffering first-hand the tragic consequences of inadequate and unstable warehouse foundations.
In many parts of the world CSR remains an alien concept or at least one which is not embraced as it is seen as interfering in the ultimate goal of maximising profit.
Also, there are and presumably always will be industries which require investment but are perceived by some as antisocial, immoral or contrary to public decency. Arms, gambling, cigarettes, alcohol, pornography and no doubt others may be considered to fall into this category, but it is unlikely that these industries are going to disappear soon and therefore innovation and investment will continue in those sectors and there will be entrepreneurs investing in existing and new businesses occupying those spaces, and there will be start-ups seeking to exploit those markets with new solutions and products. Such start-ups are likely still to attract investment.
Socially responsible investing (SRI) takes CSR a step further and seeks to encourage corporate practices that promote sustainability, consumer protection, human rights and diversity. Certain investors and funds will deliberately avoid the above mentioned sectors and make a virtue of not investing in, what some may perceive as, these ethically lacking concepts.
Impact Investing, Community Investment and Positive Investing are all terms used in the context of SRI and which are self-explanatory.
But does SRI mean lower profitability? Morgan Stanley produced a report in April 2015 which concludes that sustainable investment has “usually met and often exceeded, the performance of comparable traditional investments”.
Many jurisdictions have responded to and also encouraged SRI by introducing corporate vehicles with, in some cases, fiscal incentives, to create a legal framework for businesses with a social purpose – for example, B-Corporations in the US and Community Interest Companies in the UK.
It is of course emotive to seek to label entrepreneurs as social or antisocial depending upon how the sectors they invest in are regarded. Views on this change frequently and often with the fashion du jour. The biggest proponents of gambling are the world’s governments hungry for hefty tax revenue generated by casino houses and online betting companies. Given that many of these are elected governments, can gambling really be branded antisocial?
It is worth noting, too, that a business engaged in what might be regarded as an “antisocial” sector is also capable of engaging in considerable positive action through CSR, SRI etc.