Produced by the Center for Ethical Business Cultures and published in fall 2012 by Cambridge University Press, Corporate Responsibility: The American Experience is a landmark publication tracing business behavior and practices from the middle of the 18th century to the modern day. This comprehensive volume demonstrates how ideas about corporate responsibilities have evolved over time, with the roles, relationships and performance of corporations coming under increasing scrutiny.
The distinguished team of authors explores two conceptual strands: first, a stream of critical events that tell the story of American business and society since the 18th century; and second, a complementary set of ideas, theories, concepts and models of business behavior that reflect changing ideas about corporate power and its regulation. This “double helix” of practice and thought has shaped the definition of “responsible corporate behavior” into a living concept that is revisited in each era. It is a story of leadership (visionaries, innovators and rogues); of social, labor and political activists (radicals and moderates); of thoughtful discourse and violent confrontation; and of a powerfully productive and innovative economy. Ultimately, a society’s expectations of corporate performance form an ever changing “social contract” of explicit and implied agreements and expectations between business and the rest of society. The text is complemented by a remarkable collection of images that catch the eye and tell the story in a powerful way.
As the social, political and economic landscapes in the twenty-first century continue to shift, the book informs a much needed public conversation about what is expected of the modern corporation. For business leaders, as well as students and scholars, the book provides a valuable lens through which to examine the past and use this knowledge to inform future public expectations and corporate strategies.
General Mills’ chairman and CEO, Kenneth Powell, echoed this view in the book’s foreword:
“This book appears at a timely moment. Many business leaders are clearly rethinking what it means to be a truly socially responsible company, and this important work helps us understand not only the history of corporate responsibility, but also its evolving future…. It examines corporate responsibility with such impressive scope that it is certain to become a crucial resource for those passionate about the ability of business to make a difference in society. It will certainly stimulate discussion and critical thought for General Mills as we chart our own future.”