Importance of Ethical Behaviour in Canadian Businesses
Along with the rise of corporate social responsibility (CSR) discourse and practice, there has been a concurrent rise in studies exploring how ethics and morality are understood by business owners, and consequently how they practice social responsibility. Particularly understudied have been the concepts of social responsibility that small or micro business owners operationalize. This article explicates the findings from a qualitative study involving 25 small business owners who practice social responsibility in various sectors located in Western Canada. Our findings confirm the findings from a number of European studies on small and medium-sized socially responsible enterprises (SMEs), but this study is unique in revealing that the morality underpinning social responsibility practices by small business owners tends to be embedded in a sense of relationship with and commitment to the well-being of the local geographic community. Yet, the precise nature of this commitment and its enactment in business decision-making and practices appears to vary according to the nature of the business, the owners' meanings about community and thus the nature and extent of business responsibility, about viability (what it is possible to do), and about the owners' personal connection with and interests in the community. Further, this moral commitment is threaded with felt ambiguities, such as the ambiguity around the business owner's role as a social change agent in the community, and the extent to which community demands should take precedence in business decision-making. Motives and incentives for making moral commitments to community can come into conflict with the demands of operating a profit-making enterprise, and tensions can emerge around the extent of interconnection with community while retaining the independence and distance required for competitiveness. This article maps the different moral positions related to social responsibility (SR) as articulated by the 25 small business owners and explains their positions within a range of SR practices. Through an ethical analysis, we argue that this moral commitment to community is connected to a relational worldview that they perceive to be distinct from values and assumptions driving the existing economic system, yet they pursue this vision as individual actors rather than working collectively.
Corporate social responsibility and small business
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be defined as a business commitment to respond ethically to social and/or ecological concerns. This is often understood as recognizing a “triple bottom line” of investing shareholders, the natural environment, and other stakeholders, including local community, government, customers, employees, and interest groups ranging across environmental, religious, ethnic, and trade groups (Canadian Business for Social Responsibility, 2001). In actuality, corporate social responsibility is not a unitary phenomenon but is characterized by wide-ranging meanings and practices including transparent accountability, respect for ethical values, commitment to improving quality of life and preserving natural environments, and support for the local community (Hopkins, 2003; Crowther and Rayman-Bacchus, 2004; Canadian Business for Social Responsibility, 2001).
In Canada where this study was conducted, corporate SR is described as an “urgent social and political issue” in the federally sponsored National Corporate Social Responsibility project (Conference Board ...