Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a concept that can take many forms depending on factors such as company and industry. By its very nature, CSR within the legal sector is meant to reflect business performance, law & regulation, social goals, the community, and corporate governance. To engage properly in CSR an organisation must operate in a way that enhances the environment and society, instead of negatively contributing to it.
Climate change, well-being in the workplace, sustainability and human rights are not new factors to address or tackle but have, in recent years, taken centre stage. A societal push towards a cleaner, greener, less-meaner world has meant businesses are being held accountable for where their products come from, how ethical they are and what they are giving back to the community and the planet, right through from the start to the end of the supply chain.
The question is – where does CSR sit and who takes on the role of ensuring the business is not just monetarily aligned but also morally, ethically, and ecologically above board (board being the key word). An organisation’s ability to respond to CSR will require a diversity of related perspectives at board and executive level, and this, we have seen, is where the role of the in-house counsel/ GC comes in, where legal technicality meets the moral, ethical and balanced skillset of a lawyer.
GCs and in-house legal teams can help shape a company’s culture and corporate decision making when it comes to CSR, alongside ensuring expectations are met. Lawyers are instrumental when it comes to championing an organisations values and encouraging employees to uphold those standards and expectations. From drafting internal policies to assessing local laws and external contracts to ensure that business needs are met in alignment with a company’s commitment to CSR.
When looking at social and environmental matters, GCs and the wider legal team can manage the direct impact of such issues, as this will extend beyond the companies own operations and trickle-down customer, consumer, and supplier chains. Therefore, Lawyers will be in the best position to not only lead on due diligence reviews relating to environmental and governance risks but also provide the requisite advice and guidance on the management of those risks.
Whilst the topic of CSR is no new concept to lawyers, with many law firms having a dedicated CSR team, the commitment to CSR-related activity can differ from business to business. In recruitment we have seen a rise in the need for lawyers, particularly at board or exec level, to have experience in CSR or at least a passion for this area. With social media, activists, and an increasing transparency required in what businesses do, the need for an awareness and active participation in CSR will only increase… perhaps not a bad thing!
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