Responsible Business – How can HR Drive the Agenda?

Consider the following: 

  • In 2015, a trophy hunter killed Cecil, a popular lion living in a park in Zimbabwe. The public was outraged; within weeks of Cecil’s death a dozen airlines had reacted to public pressure and changed their policies to ban shipping of trophy animal carcasses. 
  • In 2016, global furniture retailer IKEA introduced a living wage for all employees. 
  • Over the past several years, multinational consumer goods company Unilever has set and aggressively pursued ‘net-positive’ energy and carbon targets across their global operations.
  • Following a school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018 that killed 17 people, several American retailers, including Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, revised their policies to restrict gun sales. 

What these diverse examples have in common is an effort to behave more socially, economically, or environmentally responsible as a business. The factors influencing these behaviours are diverse – activist pressure, employee wellbeing, employer brand, the need to respond with foresight to climate change in order to protect future business performance – but they share a common orientation toward ethical standards and activities that respect and enhance the public good. 

Variously called ‘corporate responsibility’, ‘restorative business’, ‘sustainable business’, ‘the triple bottom line’, and so on, Responsible Business initiatives have become a significant area of interest among organisations in recent years, as rapid and sometimes drastic political, social, economic, technological, and environmental changes force businesses to reconsider their role in society to ensure their own survival. Increasingly, Responsible Business activities are not an optional bolt-on to business as usual, but core to the business and how it behaves, built-in to the business’s purpose and strategy. 

As organisations grapple with the imperative to play a positive role in a broken society, they are likely to face several issues. 

  • What does ‘Responsible Business’ mean and how is it operationalised with respect to your business’s context, competition, and strategy?
  • What is the business case for Responsible Business? How will it positively and/or negatively impact the organisation, its business model, and its employees?
  • What are some of the challenges with implementing a Responsible Business model, such as leadership buy-in, lack of inter-functional collaboration, and the gap between intention and action?
  • What is HR’s role and responsibility with respect to driving a Responsible Business agenda? Should HR be embedding ethics into the organisational culture? Leading the communication of a Responsible Business strategy? Helping craft that strategy? Holding executive leaders to account by asking the tough questions? Evaluating the outcomes of Responsible Business initiatives? 

In CRF’s upcoming Masterclass and webinar, accompanied by a research report, we will explore these issues and more. We will look at how leading companies are delivering Responsible Business initiatives, challenges to watch out for, how HR can take the lead on Responsible Business, and practical recommendations for getting started and maintaining good practices.  



Don’t miss your chance to be part of the research! Complete CRF’s Responsible Business survey by 10th May to have your views on the topic heard. If you are interested in participating in a qualitative interview on Responsible Business, please contact Carmen von Rohr, Content and Digital Manager, at 


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