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Business and Society

The role of business in society and the accompanying responsibilities that transpire from that role is a highly contentious and debated topic. The economist Milton Friedman famously contended that the “business of business is business” and thus it has only one responsibility and that is to generate profit for shareholders (while adhering to the law). Contrary to that argument is thinking that recognizes business as a system in society that is affected by and affects other systems in society (such as the surrounding community, government bodies, other types of organizations, the natural environment, etc.). Thus business needs to work with these systems to attain its economic goals in a way that will also benefit the system (society) as a whole.

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Business in society has evolved to include the description, analysis and evaluation of business’ complex societal and ecological relations. These relations and impacts, and the management thereof are popularly referred to as the field of corporate citizenship (also known as corporate social responsibility, sustainability or a number of variations on these).

For business the changing social contract implies purposeful involvement with stakeholders to achieve improved economic, environmental and social performance. The nature and extent of this involvement, however, varies depending on company size, industry or business scope. The most evident difference is the utilization of reactive/defensive means vs. proactive/offensive strategies. Consequently, corporate citizenship management, practice and behavior differ. The emergence of new stakeholder engagement strategies, including strategic alliances and partnerships, social partnerships and multi-sector collaborations, means that collaborative strategies (as opposed to purely competitive strategies) have become a critical means for the private sector to proactively engage society.

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