Trending: Call for Papers Volume 4 | Issue 4: International Journal of Advanced Legal Research [ISSN: 2582-7340]



The idea that British corporations ought to act in a responsible manner dates back several centuries. The Portuguese began the practice of enslaving Africans in 1440[1], and through Sir John Hawkins, England became involved in this reckless commerce by 1562.[2] Slavery and how African slaves were treated had become social issues in Great Britain by the 1760s. By the late 1780s, the “social activists group of their time” had been established by Sir William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, and Granville Sharp, two of his other parliamentary colleagues. The pressure group known as “The Abolitionists,” which was created at that time, advocated for the end of the slave trade for 35 years in a nonviolent (responsible) manner. It makes sense that the influential confederation of shipowners, manufacturers, merchants, and planters used their positions in the House of Commons and Lords to mount a defensive against the initiatives of these social reformers. Ultimately, the Abolition of Slave Trade Act was passed on March 25, 1807. The Act outlawed the trade in slaves by British companies and by British ships carrying slaves. Essentially, the Act may be read as a legislative order compelling British corporations— including the church—to conduct themselves in a socially conscious manner with regard to the trade in human beings and all associated activities. Notwithstanding the 1807 Act, the slave trade persisted until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, at which point Robert Peel’s Tory government was required to compensate the slave owners. The quantity of slaves possessed determined the amount of compensation. It was said that Dr. Henry Phillpotts, the Bishop of Exeter at the time, received payment of $12,700 for 665 slaves, or almost $19 per slave.

A number of British businessmen and industrialists engaged in certain indirect forms of corporate social responsibility (CSR) during the 1750s–1830s Industrial Revolution. For example, the entrepreneur Richard Arkwright had identified that employees were ‘human assets’ who should be treated responsibly in order to get the best work performance from them. In 1775, Arkwright became the first industrialist in Derby to construct affordable housing for his workers close to his enterprises. As noted by Crowther (2002), Arkwright had started what would be considered a socially conscious venture by giving these homes away for free or at very low rent; this was the case even in the eighteenth century, when a company’s primary goal was to turn a profit. Cook (2003) characterizes Titus Salt, the wool baron from Yorkshire, as a “pioneer of caring capitalism,” while he is more accurately referred to as “the pioneer of modern environmentalism.”.[3] He moved his woolen mill to Saltaire, outside Bradford town centre, in 1848, hoping ‘to make a difference’ in the lives of the people living in Bradford town, which at the time was regarded as the most polluted town in Britain. Salt built a model town with running water in every home for his personnel during a 20-year span. Cook (2003) recounts the socially conscious actions of Joseph Rowntree, the well- known philanthropist and manufacturer of candies, who constructed “Rowntree Village” in York in 1904 for his workers, consisting of dwellings centered around a community hall. Rowntree developed a profit-sharing plan for his employees in 1916, a pension fund for them in 1906, and staff holidays in 1918. At the time, all of these socially conscious actions were groundbreaking.

In her research on the historical foundations of corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting in the UK, Maltby (2004) challenges the notion that CSR reporting in the country is a relatively new development. She points out that a number of UK manufacturing companies have been actively engaged in CSR reporting; Sheffield steelmakers, for instance, have been documented to have done so since the early 1990s.

Cook (2003) contends that the first known instance of state intervention in this area of corporate social responsibility worldwide was the UK National Insurance Act of 1911, which established Herbert H. Asquith’s Liberal Government and required businesses to contribute for unemployment and sickness benefits for every employee. Thus, history suggests that the UK has made a fair contribution to the growth of the CSR industry.

[1]Rawley and Behrendt (2005)

[2]Du Bois 1896

[3]S. O. Idowu and W. L. Filho (eds.) Global Practices of Corporate Social Responsibility, Springer- Verlag Berlin Heideberg, 2009, p.13