Admissions Blog

Financial Times: Corporate social responsibility is an essential part of today’s MBA

By 7th February 2018 February 20th, 2018 No Comments


By Peter Moizer
Feb. 6, 2018.

It is not an easy topic to teach, but emphasising personal responsibility is key

Think social: ethics and CSR are now routinely taught on MBA programmes © Getty

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]rowse the websites of the UK’s biggest companies and you will see carefully worded commitments to “citizenship”, building “sustainability” and making “socially responsible” investments.

For many years — with a few notable exceptions — many companies did pay only lip service to doing their bit. But over the past decade this has changed. Businesses are aware that what they do has an impact on society and the environment.

This change has been reflected in the way that corporate social responsibility and ethics are taught in UK business schools, particularly on MBA programmes. While MBA students expect to learn about finance, operations, marketing and strategy, an insight into to the latest CSR thinking and ethics is also expected.

But ethics is a difficult subject to teach and securing the attention of MBAs can be challenging. The subject requires the consideration of complex ideas and competing priorities. There is often no right or wrong answer. A company’s success is measured by its bottom line, but how do you measure “acting responsibly?

Emphasising personal accountability in the corporate environment is one way of getting students’ attention. Managers can no longer hide behind large corporate legal teams if they are caught acting unethically. In many cases, individuals are punished directly through loss of position, fines or even prison. Students understand, for their own and their company’s interests, that managers must take responsibility for their actions.

“Philosophers offer a different perspective on ethical dilemmas and deepen the students’ knowledge of ethical reasoning”

Sceptics will argue that for businesses, earning a profit always trounces acting responsibly. But the reality is not always that simple.

After recognising that graduates needed a more thorough understanding of CSR, Leeds University Business School has refined its approach to teaching the subject. And it is one of a number of business schools — including Warwick, Cass and EDHEC — which signed up to the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Management Education. These principles encourage practical action to incorporate business ethics, environmental and sustainable development issues within curricular and student engagement activities.

In 2016, Leeds began compulsory assessment on CSR and ethics, after recognising graduates needed a more thorough understanding of the topics. MBA students undertake a research project as part of their programme and some use this as an opportunity to discuss and explore ethical issues by working with local educational organisations, social enterprises and charities (for example, Northern Ballet and St Gemma’s Hospice).

Leeds students also carry out research to help them understand charitable giving and to explore the effectiveness of payroll giving to support this. Others have examined corporate CSR initiatives.

The students also work with the university’s philosophy department through the Interdisciplinary Ethics Applied Centre. This has been very successful: philosophers offer a different perspective on ethical dilemmas and deepen the students’ knowledge of ethical reasoning.

Business schools have a role to play in helping companies meet the challenges of social responsibility and ethics and in ensuring that their well-intentioned commitments are not disappointingly unfulfilled.