The measurement dilemma points to a larger conceptual problem. Where do a company’ social responsibilities start and stop? Historically, most businesses used to draw the line at the office door or factory gate. A company’s social impacts centred on job creation and, to a lesser extent, how it treated its employees. Community riots in the UK during the early 1980s widened the scope. In their wake, the Prince of Wales-sponsored group Business in the Community (BitC) emerged. “Healthy backstreets equal healthy high streets” ran its motto. Suddenly, companies’ social responsibilities (and commercial interests) came to include their local communities.
The following decade witnessed the explosion of industrial globalisation. Food and clothing that was once manufactured locally began arriving from far-flung places – many of which had dubious labour practices. Following public pressure, companies added their international supply chains to the list of areas where their social impacts were being felt. Codes of conduct followed, coupled with factory and farm audits to prove (or disapprove) compliance.