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Religion & Corporate Social Responsibility

November 9, 2013Cliff Lin


Religion, one of the major aspects of life, plays an important role in our everyday ethical and moral decision making.  Even though some corporations strive to separate religion and commerce altogether to achieve unity within the organizations, it is only a fruitless toil due to the existence of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), a combination of ethics and business. This paper examines the six major religions and their views on CSR. The six religions include Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Since each religion is established with different fundamental roots, it is assured that conflicting ideologies between religions occur. Thus, each religion may advocate different aspects of CSR. In fact, it is entirely possible that some religions deem CSR as an absurd concept. Essentially, it is important to examine the principles of each religion, as the inquisition exhibits the underlying reasoning to each religion’s perception of CSR.


Catholicism has a large influence on business ethics: “By the 1940s and 1950s the most influential textbooks on business ethics were products of Catholic professors and Catholic business schools” (Kennedy, 1999). To fully understand the impact of Catholicism views on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), one needs to examine the Catholic Social Teachings (CST), or sometimes referred to as the Catholic Social Thoughts. These are the collected works of the Popes, which applies Catholic views to existing social problems and the purpose of a firm. Many Catholic believes show objections to the economic theory and are consistent with principles of the CSR.

The Catholics have a firm stance on the purpose of a business firm. An excerpt from the CST, the Centesimus Annus, clearly states:

[T]he purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society. (Pope John Paul II, 1991, #35).

While profit might be able to represent a firm’s current status, it is not the only indicator. The firm must take into consideration all other affecting factors, such as the employees, customers, community and the environment. A firm needs to take on corporate social responsibilities in order to survive in the long run.

The most essential aspect concerning the CSR is the duty of the corporation towards its employees. A part of the CST is focused on what they consider immoral about the economic theory. One of the main objections is the fact that economic theory considers capitalism and labour to be substitutes. As a business expands, there is an increase in demand for workers, and wages are increased. As a result, there is a decrease in profits. The company then acts by bringing in machines to substitute for labour. Catholics believe companies are obliged to provide financial safety for its workers, which corresponds to the corporate responsibility of providing a living wage. In addition to that, the CSR principle of providing extra benefits to its workers is also reflected in the CST, as it is stated in Laborem Exercens: “The expenses involved in health care, especially in the case of accidents at work, demand that medical assistance should be easily available for workers, and that as far as possible it should be cheap or even free of charge” (Pope John Paul II, 1981, #19). Moving up the CSR hierarchy to the position of management and stewardship, corporations are not just responsible for its employees, but for the environment as well. This is also an important matter for the Catholics, as stated by Pope Benedict XVI (2007), “Our earth speaks to us, and we must listen if we want to survive”.

All the above factors clearly establish the Catholic’s support towards Corporate Social Responsibility. The Catholic Social Teachings can continuously be used as future guidance towards ethic standards.


Protestantism is a religion based on Christianity that uses the Bible as the source or norm of their teaching. Unlike Catholicism, Protestants do not believe that the pope is their source of divine authority.

There are many different denominations of Protestantism, all of which have the same fundamental doctrines but differ in some of their interpretations of the Bible. They could also differ because of the influence of different movements during the Reformation. Because there are over 9000 denominations of Protestantism with different principles, we will only look at the Protestantism as a whole from after the Reformation as opposed to traditional Protestantism (Barrett, 2001).

Generally, Protestantism has five major beliefs (after the Reformation) that we can relate to Corporate Social Responsibility:

  1. Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone
  2. Sola Fide – Faith Alone
  3. Sola Gratia – Grace Alone
  4. Solus Christus – Christ Alone
  5. Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone

“Sola Scriptura” – Scripture Alone

Protestants believe that the scriptures like the New Testament are the only real source and rule of faith, practice, and teaching (Strawbridge, 1993). They also believe in the right to free and personal interpretations of the scripture, thus accepting divergent views of the Bible.

From this tenet of Protestantism, we can infer that as long as long as you follow the scripture under your own interpretation, then your life is free for you to decide. Upon research, different passages of the Bible lead to different interpretations of Corporate Social Responsibility.

In some passages, it seems that this Protestantism favours the Minimalist view of CSR. For example, in Genesis 13, we see that “Abram had become very wealthy in silver and gold”. The only way that he could have gained money was to sell at profit. It is also apparent that laws should be followed, considering Deuteronomy 7:12, “if you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you.”

From a different passage, Protestants should not support the Minimalist Model. From Leviticus 25:35-37, scripture informs us that if our neighbour becomes “poor and is unable to support himself”, we should help him, but “must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.” Taking into account the Minimalist view, this would not be breaking the law, but we should still not sell at a profit.

Protestantism does allow divergent views of scripture interpretation, so either view of CSR could still be correct.

“Sola Fide” – Faith Alone

From this principle of Protestantism, humans are not saved by their merits or good works (Wilhelm, 1911). Instead, merit and righteous works are seen as the result and evidence of believing in “Sola Fide”. The evidence for this attitude lays in Galations 3, where “no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for the righteous man shall live by faith.”

This principle of Protestantism goes against most of the views of Corporate Social Responsibility. From the Self-Interest, Social Contract, and both Stakeholder views, social responsibility requires firms to operate at a higher ethical level voluntarily, like making charitable contributions or giving employees extra benefits. However, under “Sola Fide”, Protestants do not need to do good works to gain merit with the Lord. As long as one has faith, then good works and merit will follow.

“Sola Gratia” – Grace Alone

Grace Alone, or “Sola Gratia” is the teaching that salvation is a gift from God which need not be earned (Strawbridge, 1993). Protestants believe that relying only on God’s grace or mercy is enough to reach Heaven; therefore salvation is not dependent on the acts of the person.

As we saw from “Sola Fide”, Protestantism rejects the Self-Interest, Social Contract, and both Stakeholder perspectives when dealing with voluntary efforts. Since Protestantism relies on God’s saving grace, they do not owe anything to society nor do they need to do moral acts. Relying on God’s mercy, responsibility for primary, secondary or tertiary stakeholders is nonexistent.

“Solus Christus” – Christ Alone

Protestantism teaches that only Christ is the sole mediator between humans and God. (Strawbridge, 1993). Although Protestants reject other channels for God and human communication, they still honor the Virgin Mary and saints.

In 1 Timothy 2:4-6, it states that there is “one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”; Protestants believe that only by Christ’s work are they saved. From this, we can relate that since only praying or acting in Christ’s way is necessary, there is no need for Corporate Social Responsibility. There is no ethical need to help society with its social problems, nor the social need to recognize corporate integrity.

“Soli Deo Gloria” – Glory to God Alone

Finally, Protestantism instructs that Glory should only be due to God (Strawbridge, 1993). Thus, Protestants are opposed to the hierarchical system of the church, rejecting the authority of the pope and priests. Any glory or praise should be given to God, and no humans should be exalted for their good works.

Again, we see that Corporate Social Responsibility is not supported by Protestantism. Since no good works should be done, there can be no recognition of social responsibility. Because humans should not be rewarded for ethical and social acts according to “Soli Deo Gloria”, this negates all good works to be done.

From this observation of the five fundamentals of Protestantism, most of the teachings of this religion do not support Corporate Social Responsibility. With exception of any good acts being written in the Holy Book or explicitly stated to do good acts in the Bible, there are teachings that disagree with all five positions (Minimalist, Self-Interest, Social Contract, Management, and Stewardship) within the CSR debate.


Islam has a different perspective regarding the corporate social responsibilities (CSR) in comparison with western belief such as Christianity. Unlike Christianity, Islam emphasize that goodness is not achieved by surrendering other things, but it is rather achieved by participation in everyday affairs and “resisting the temptation to evil that come from this affair” (William & Zinkin 2006). Therefore, corporate social responsibilities from Islamic perspective are seen as a benefit to the society rather than a cost.

Islamic perspectives of social responsibilities for are not just “the matter of legal obligations and material rights to stake holders” (Ahmed & Parvez 2004). Therefore, the Islamic idea is in conflict with the minimalist perspective of the CSR, the concept that business should just focus on maximize profits without breaking laws. This conflict can be shown in Quran 57:18, “charity-giving men and women, and those who lend an excellent loan to Allah for them is double, and for them is an honorable reward”, which can be applied to businesses such that there will be liberal rewards if extra efforts are made that will benefit the society. Another example comes from Quran 2:276, “Allah will deprive usury of all blessing, but will give increase for deeds of charity”, which states that Allah will increase rewards for those who participate in deeds of charity and goodness. Thus, the Islamic concept opposes the minimal perspective of CSR and Islam would prefer businesses that are socially responsible and able to give back to the community.

The Islamic perspective is more consistent with the social contract concept of the CSR, which believe corporations should not solely focusing on the economic side of maximizing profits, corporations should also focus on its morality. However, it is not enough for business to only achieve good charity publicly once in a while, businesses should continue to help out the ones needed and address major social issues. This is supported by section 2:271 of Quran, “[i]f you make your charity public, that is good. But if you conceal it and give it to the poor that is better for you” (Quran 2:271). Islam prohibits certain type of business due to the “concern to protect health and life” (Zinkin 2005). Therefore, products and services that put these at risk such as casino and alcohol are prohibited. This exclusion is best justified by the Quran: “They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: In them is great sin, and some profit for men; but the sin is greater than the profit” (Quran 2:219).

In general, Islam has “very clear prescriptions about how business should be done” (William & Zinkin 2006). Since Islam believes in the concept of unity, corporations should not just focus on maximizing profits, as of the minimalist perspective of the CSR. Rather, corporations should be responsible for the society by providing product and services that will benefit consumers and should continue provide good charity to those who needs them.


Upon investigating the Jewish perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), one realizes the necessity to examine two main Jewish ideologies: benevolence and free will (Sherwin, 2006). Benevolence is the highest virtue in Judaism, and it includes a number of desirable qualities, such as caring, forgiving, and giving to the poor. With such emphasis placed on benevolence, it stands to reason that Jewish people would promote the goodwill inherent in CSR. Since we all have free will, we have the choice to be either benevolent or malevolent, qualities that bring about either reward or punishment (Tabory, 1982).

Judaism’s high regard for benevolence becomes evident when one considers the fact that, in this religion, virtuous deeds are linked to reward while wicked deeds are associated with punishment. Being rewarded for acts of benevolence is natural in the Jewish faith, since munificence is our God-given divine nature (Peppard, 2002). According to Judaism, humans are finite replicas of God and thus carry within them the divine spark of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence (Peppard). Since human beings cannot possibly portray all three characteristics to their fullest extent, munificence ought to be the life-long goal of every person. According to the 613 Mitzvoth (Commandments), love and brotherhood is to be encouraged not only among friends and family but also among strangers (Hershenson, 1999). Though such love is not an absolute requirement of the Jewish faith, it certainly benefits the soul. The desire to exhibit love for humanity is present in the CSR ideology as well, since the policy states that all companies are obligated to care for the inhabitants of this world.

However, Judaism does not necessarily insist on the practice of CSR. Acting benevolently is merely a noble suggestion, since avoiding acts of malevolence is enough to counteract to threat of Hell. Whether one goes above and beyond the moral call of duty depends entirely upon free will (Tabory). Judaism states that, while every human has the choice to commit either good or bad deeds, each of our actions brings about a certain consequence (Tabory). While acting maliciously elicits punishment of the soul, acting neutrally, without either positive or negative intent, brings on no such retribution. Still, one would be well advised to act with the welfare of others in mind, since compassion inevitably leads to reward.

Nonetheless, the notion of free will is overridden by the “Obligation of Tzedakah” (Hershenson). The word “Tzedakah,” loosely translated as “charity” in English, implies that “giving to the poor is an obligation . . . a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need” (Hershenson). As stated in the 613 Mitzvoth, one is forbidden to reap “the entire field”, for “the corners of the field are for the poor” (Hershenson). Accordingly, companies have the duty to address social issues such as starvation, homelessness, and poverty, as opposed to controversial issues like global warming, homosexuality, and abortion.


Hinduism is known as the oldest and one of the largest religions existing in the twentieth century.  As this religion is not founded by one single person and has been changing throughout the centuries, there is no single, unified foundation for Hinduism (Flood, 1996).  Hinduism encompasses a vast amount of traditions and beliefs.  Similar to other religions, religion influences attitudes and ethics within the workplace.  In particular, corporate social responsibility in Hindu organizations are executed in respect to Hindu beliefs.  Four basic key components of Hinduism that influence corporate social responsibility include: moksha, samsara, dharma, and pollution and impurity.

Hindus strongly believe in the importance of moksha, and believe that it is the ultimate goal in life or within their lives.  Moksha is a state of spiritual freedom where one is able to release oneself from the cycle of life and death, samsara, and reach self-realization.  This is when one lives in ignorance to suffering and reincarnation, and instead lives mainly based on spiritual satisfaction and a higher consciousness parallel to that of the God.  It is through the process of samsara where one is born into the world with a certain status; this is where the implementation of the caste system is practiced (Brammer, Williams and Zinkin, 2005).  The caste system is a societal framework where social status and occupation is determined through heredity.  According to classical Hinduism, a man’s life is divided into four stages consisting of “a child and a student, then a mature producer-earner and progenitor, then a retired and wise man, and finally a turn to a simpler and even renunciatory life, perhaps as a mendicant and/or wanderer” (Labour and Employment Relations Associations, 2005).  It is within these stages of life that one would associate dharma.  Hindus define dharma as duty and refers to one’s personal responsibility towards oneself as well as others while complying with laws.  One’s dharma depends on one’s caste in the society; there are specific duties and values based on different societal roles and hierarchical levels.  As well, different dharmas are exercised within different stages of one’s life.  To address dharma correctly, one must avoid pollution and impurity.  Pollution in this sense does not only refer to gaseous emissions or harmful substances to the environment, but also specific substances.  Dead animals, people, feces, and blood are also accounted as pollution.  Consequently, those who are on a lower caste in the society, such as those whose occupations include work with dead animal substances (leatherwork for instance), coroners, and other dirty work are deemed as polluted.  This is essential as such pollution will prevent one from maintaining cleanliness for the performance of rituals (Labour and Employment Relations Associations, 2005).  In this sense, those in the lower caste will need to follow obligations and duties according to their occupation to do the very least; the same would be said for others in different castes.  However, by performing and extending behaviour over and above required duties, there will be a higher chance of being born in a higher caste in their next reincarnation.

Ultimately, the Hindu’s goal over the lifespan and samsara, is to follow and practice dharma by avoiding pollution to reach the ultimate moksha.  In this sense, Hinduism greatly supports corporate social responsibility as it encourages people to be responsible and take on their rightful duties, which would be the first step to being social responsibility.  The next step would be to perform duties that exceed compliance by extending love, fairness, and good work ethnic.  One can then assume that corporate social responsibility leads to moksha, or conversely, moksha encourages corporate social responsibility.


Buddhism is schools of Buddhist teachings, principles, and practices. The Nobel Eightfold Path is the most important summary in Buddhist practice of self-realization of Nirvana, where individual no longer accumulate karmic consequences and will no longer be trapped in the samsara, the cycle of constant rebirth as a result of their intentional karma (Trainor, 2001).


The logic of the karma doctrine has motivated Buddhists everywhere to endeavor to generate merit whenever possible (Trainor, 2001). Laity generate merit primarily from practicing generosity through dana, which can be translated as charity or donation (Trainor, 2001), similar to corporation taking on social responsibility by making charitable contribution. Planting good seeds can guarantee a rich future harvest of karmic fruit for an individual’s present life, the lives after, and future generations. The intention of acting generously to bring good karma satisfies the individual’s wish, which meet the general mean of the self-interested Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) model.

The Nobel Eightfold Path

The Nobel Eightfold Path is usually understood as the cultivation of morality, mediation, and wisdom. All three stages constructing the Buddhist path underscores Buddhism’s practical emphasis, whether is the foundational goal of improving moral standards, good conduct, and the material welfare of society, or the more advanced ideal of eliminating the desire-driven behaviour, restructuring cognition, and, finally, realizing perfect enlightenment (Trainor, 2001).


The starting point of the Buddhist path is moral practice (right speech, right action, and right livelihood). Right speech is to speak in a truthful and harmless way. Right action is defined negatively as not killing, stealing, or harming other beings. Right livelihood refers most obviously to occupations that are harmless to others. This stage plays a role in CSR as it respects the lives of other beings.


The second stage is Mediation, which encompasses various techniques and tradition of working with the mind. It consists of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. A right effort simply means to make an effort to improve. Right mindfulness refers to the awareness to see things for what they really are with consciousness. Right concentration involves an intense focus on a particular object of mediation.


Wisdom, right view and right thought, is the final stage marking the path to Nirvana. Right view is to observe reality as it is, not just as it appears to be. Right thought refers to detachment from hatred and cruelty. An individual arriving at the last stage of the Buddhist Path can be defined as a moral person, follow the law and move beyond personal desires. The Nobel Eightfold Path contains some responsibilities that CSR holds.

Corporation takes on social responsibility when the individuals within the firm recognize the needs of CSR and practice it through self-realizing in the three levels of Nobel Eightfold Path. Individuals are responsible for the economics and societies, rather than organization taken in the abstract. Firms should behave responsibly and their intentions must also be well motivated, but it is the individuals within the firms who should take the lead. Other stakeholders such as consumers and investors should not support unethical business, but neither can they absolve themselves of their responsibilities by delegating to firms (Brammer, Williams & Zinkin, 2007). In general, Buddhism is perhaps the least economically oriented among the major faiths since its focus on self spiritual enlightenment is very individualistic.


Overall, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, possess principles and values that suggest influence on corporate social responsibility.  With the exception of Protestantism, all discussed religions provide either direct or indirect support to this practice within businesses.

Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism are religions that encourage benevolence and righteous acts through intrinsic value.  These three religions strongly emphasize the compliance to their religious texts: Islams follow the Quran, Jews abide to the Mitzvith, and Catholics adhere to the Bible and the Pope’s social teachings.  The expected and ultimate ideal behaviours are explicitly stated through “commandments” that are imposed on the believers.  It is also noted that Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism all promote the importance of being a morally good person.  Being a good person includes being responsible to oneself and being considerate towards others, while abiding to the ethical values of the religion.  Such principles allow for the development of intrinsic value.  Followers are loyal to these values as it provides a healthy and ethical guideline to life.

Buddhism and Hinduism values also support the practice of corporate social responsibility; however, these two religions are more diverse, and do not have explicitly set principles or rules to follow.  Both religions emphasize the importance of reaching nirvana or moksha, leading to a more individualistic view.  Because nirvana or moksha can only be attained through the individual’s actions within the reincarnation cycle, Buddhists and Hindus will base their actions on the benefit they will receive from them.  Even though such practices encourage the tradition of good deeds and consideration, they are proven to be instrumental goods since it ultimately determines the future of the individual. Because both religions do not have a written text in which to follow, Buddhist and Hindu principles are implicitly initiated which allows for a more individualistic liberal interpretation.

Protestantism is the sole religion discussed where its principles are mixed regarding the practice of corporate social responsibility.  On the one hand, Protestants are required to follow the Bible according to their own free personal interpretation.  Many passages within the bible explicitly state to do good works, following Christ’s example. From this, we could say that Protestantism supports many of the models of corporate social responsibility. However, believers are able to interpret scripture according to their own liking which ultimately leads their actions and values to be varying and subjective. Other passages in the bible express views that go against the minimalist model of corporate social responsibility.  In the end, as long as Protestants believe that they are doing what the Bible suggests, their view is perceived to be correct.  Consequently, this raises concerns as guidelines from the Bible may be manipulated.

On the other hand, Protestantism teaches that salvation is a gift from God which is not earned, but chosen; therefore, Protestants – relying solely on the mercy of God – find no need to be ethical or caring towards others.  As they are told that they do not have control over their life or future lives, behaviours will tend to be more selfish and inconsiderate.  Evidently, such beliefs do not encourage and contradict to most models of corporate social responsibility.

Through our research and findings, we can see that corporate social responsibility is supported by most religions. This presents the notion of a universal acceptance and agreement on the correct and desirable behaviours of people as a whole.


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Cliff Lin

Cliff Lin

Internet Marketer

Cliff is an Internet Marketing guru with extensive experience in ecommerce and internet marketing roles. He has solid small business background, successful ecommerce experience, and internet marketing expertise. He is capable of implementing the latest interactive marketing tools for company, as well as backend information systems to maximize efficiency.