Isolated CSR initiatives are not enough to restore public trust in business

New publications to encourage discussion at an international conference call for business leaders to adopt broader approaches to more responsible business  

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is sometimes justified as good business sense and as a way of building or rebuilding trust and reputation. Trust in business is at a low level in many countries, but two new publications by Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas suggest that if it is to be re-established and restored, more than worthy words from the CEO and a few CSR projects with related images in an Annual Report may be required.   

The author of Winning Companies; Winning People challenges the approaches to CSR being adopted by many companies: “Would cynicism and distrust be better addressed by being more open, honest and innovative, paying more attention to a wider range of stakeholder interests, a different business model or adding more value? Rather than decorating the icing, should the emphasis be upon improving the cake or baking a better one?”

In a theme paper written for the 2018 and 12th International Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility and an article in Director Today Prof. Coulson-Thomas suggests a broader approach to becoming a more responsible business may be required. The two publications raise a variety of questions that could usefully be considered by directors and boards to encourage discussion at the forthcoming international conference which is to be held in Bengaluru, India

Coulson-Thomas believes there are five steps that corporate boards need to take: “First they should clarify their accountabilities. Secondly, they must understand the interests, requirements and aspirations of customers, employees, business partners, investors, local communities and other stakeholders. Thirdly they need to decide the nature and extent of their responsibilities to different stakeholders. Next they must establish criteria and guidelines for allocating effort and forming relationships. Finally they have to decide how to assess, learn from and report the resulting activity.

The professor believes the benefits of appropriate action in terms of identifying new business, collaboration and co-creation opportunities, forging new and mutually beneficial relationships, and unleashing greater engagement, creativity and commitment can exceed the costs: “While there are challenges, there are also unprecedented opportunities for companies to be more responsible, use corporate cababilities in new ways, collaborate, have a beneficial social impact and restore trust and respect in business, corporate leadership, enterprise and entrepreneurship.”

The 2018 and 12th International Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility is organised by India’s Institute of Directors. The two publications by Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas can be obtained from the institute’s website: firstly the Theme Paper for the event: Responsible CSR: A New Agenda Beyond Governance ( and secondly his article in the January issue of Director Today on ‘The Responsibility of Being Responsible’ (

In addition to his professorial and leadership appointments. Dr Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of Winning Companies; Winning People and Developing Directors, a handbook for building an effective boardroom team is IOD India’s Director General, UK and Europe. Details of his most recent books and evidence based research reports on critical success factors for key corporate activities and quicker, more affordable and less disruptive ways of building high performance organisations and simultaneously delivering multiple benefits can be obtained from Policy Publications: