“CSR as a concept simplifies some rather complex arguments and fails to acknowledge that ultimately trade-offs must be made between the financial health of the company and ethical outcomes,” argues Doane, who is a writer, lecturer, activist, and campaigner on CSR and global sustainability issues. When trade-offs are made, she adds, profit undoubtedly wins over principles.

Doane contends that four key myths of CSR prevent the movement from effecting fundamental change:

Myth 1: The market can deliver both short-term financial returns
and long-term social benefits.

Myth 2: The ethical consumer will drive change.

Myth 3: There will be a competitive “race to the top” over ethics
among businesses.

Myth 4: In the global economy, countries will compete to have the
best ethical practices.

Among alternatives to CSR that Doane proposes is a change to the legal structure of the corporation both in Europe and the United States, so that company directors would view as company stakeholders not just shareholders, but communities, employees, and the environment as well.

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The Stanford Social Innovation Review is published by the Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Building on the Business School’s 34-year commitment to public and nonprofit management, the Center promotes solutions to social problems through a unique combination of interdisciplinary research and teaching that extends beyond the classroom. The Center dissolves traditional sector boundaries to bring together nonprofit leaders, corporate executives, government officials, and philanthropists to discuss, debate, analyze, and take action to strengthen our communities.