Episode 25: The language of Corporate Social Responsibility: Responsible communication


Early in the introduction, Erika cites two definitions. She first cites the definition of sustainability in a 1987 report by the World Commission on Environment and Development (a sub-organisation of the United Nations) called “Our Common Future”. It can be found here. The second definition is on corporate social responsibility and taken from the website Investopedia

The examples we give of CSR in action, including attempts that backfired, are body-positive Barbie dolls such as these:

the “inclusive” and desexualised M&M candy figures:

and a now (in)famous Benetton advert. The latter is reproduced in Erika’s and Veronika’s textbook Language in Business, Language at Work (Macmillan Higher Education, 2018; the second edition will have Bernard as the third author):

Still in the introduction, we also mention this article on the social responsibility of business:

  • Freeman, R.E., & Elms, H. (2018). The social responsibility of business is to create value for stakeholders. MIT Sloan Management Review, January 4. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/the-social- responsibility-of-business-is-to-create-value-for-stakeholders/. 

Every summer, the Pride season in Western countries now comes with many examples of “pinkwashing”, where companies claim to be queer-friendly, but either don’t have relevant policies or even have practices that go against LGBT equality. Some examples from 2022 can be found here

Towards the end of the introduction, Veronika talks about legitimation as a discourse strategy, based on these two works:

  • Van Leeuwen, T. (2007). Legitimation in discourse and communication. Discourse & communication, 1(1), 91-112.
  • Reyes, A. (2011). Strategies of legitimization in political discourse: From words to actions. Discourse & Society, 22(6), 781-807.

We then proceed to the interview with Garrath Williams. Two of his relevant publications are

  • Voigt, K., Nicholls, S., & Williams, G. (2014). Childhood Obesity: Ethical and policy issues.  New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Williams, G. (2019). Regulation enables: Corporate agency and practices of responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics, 154(4), 989-1002.

On the links between ‘responsible’ and ‘response’, the Oxford English Dictionary has the following to say (shortened – the OED has lots of detail):

While we mention but do not elaborate on the Drink Responsibly campaign in the UK, someone else has, in a 2014 report on alcohol and the night-time economy. 

During our analysis of the ExxonMobil press release, we wonder if the company has a Chief Sustainability Officer The answer is no but it has had an external sustainability advisory panel since 2009. 

In episode 26, we’ll talk about language and the environment – see you then!

Listen to the episode here

Season 4 Episode 25: The language of Corporate Social Responsibility: Part 1

Full transcription of the episode


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