Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy and Competition

Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy and Competition

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, which are expanding the field of application with an increasing momentum, are at the forefront of the agenda of companies in Turkey as well as all over the world. Today, when applied with appropriate strategies, CSR draws attention as an important indicator of competitiveness, as well as being an important factor that adds strength to the power of companies.

We spoke with Cambridge University Development Studies graduate Oytun Dear and New York University International Relations graduate Ezgi Demirci, from WYG Turkey’s Socio-Economic Consulting Unit, about CSR practices, good and bad examples, and the impact of CSR on companies’ competitiveness.

CSR, the first examples of which were given in the middle of the 19th century, is an expression that has gained a global identity and has an important place in the agenda of every growth-oriented company today. Although there are those who say that it has lost momentum recently (Porter, 2008)[1] CSR has reached an important point in our country as well as all over the world.

Although no consensus has been reached on CSR, in general terms, it can be defined as follows as used by the European Union:

Companies’ voluntary consideration of social and environmental issues in their business operations and interactions with stakeholders[2]  

When CSR is considered as a policy that companies implement before (or during) production and after production, it will be seen that examples were first given in the mid-1800s. George Cadbury, a British industrialist, has made important studies on improving working conditions, improving health services, taking into account the demands and needs of the people and employees, and has built a model village where his employees can live and receive basic education. In this way, Cadbury not only increased the motivation of his employees and their ownership of the company, but also brought the company to an important level in the market by gaining great trust and love with its model behaviors in the eyes of consumers.

It is of great importance to examine the emergence of CSR in determining the strategy to be followed in CSR’s competitive advantage. As stated by Erkan Özgüç (2013)[3], with the increasing concerns of stakeholders (such as employees, consumers, society, public authorities, NGOs) about the sustainability of economic development, their expectations from companies have increased. In the face of this questioning attitude of the stakeholders, the companies have taken care of various issues both during and after production. In this context, the studies carried out by companies within the scope of CSR have gained a large market share for themselves by targeting their own employees as producers and the society as consumers.

Today, successful big companies in the world and in Turkey consist of those who are aware that healthy societies reinforce the success of companies and this is proportional to the development of society. As Michael E. Porter, who is considered one of the doyens of the literature on corporate strategy, competition of nations and regions, stated in his book On Competition, [4]  rather than seeing CSR as a corporate image improvement for the businesses, or a burden or a charity on the basis of companies, CSR could be a great source of progress if acted with correct strategies  as well as being a great opportunity, innovation and competitive advantage for the businesses. Like Porter, David Grayson and Adrian Hodges, in their book Corporate Social Opportunity, state that the increasing expectations and concerns of stakeholders on social, ethical and environmental issues create opportunities both for developing business goals for business strategies and for environmental and social sustainability.  They emphasize that this understanding should be considered as a Corporate Social ‘Opportunity’ rather than a kind of Corporate Social ‘Responsibility’.[5] . However, companies can consolidate their long-term permanence when they adopt sustainable and predictable approaches instead of focusing only on today’s problems and producing short-term solutions.

One of the most beneficial ways to strengthen a company’s permanence is through companies focusing on social and/or environmental issues in line with their own strategic goals and resources. For example, if a company in a sector that causes environmental concerns, such as the automotive sector, follows a sustainable strategy to prevent environmental damage at the same time in the production process, it will take a step to solve the source of environmental problems, strengthen its corporate image and provide a competitive advantage over other CSR practitioners. One of the famous successful examples Porter also includes in his book is the Prius, an environmentally friendly hybrid vehicle that Toyota launched in 1997 as a solution to automobile emissions. Toyota’s strategy that gives it such a competitive advantage is that the vehicle is considered one of the first examples of its kind, its benefits to society are noticeable, and it mobilizes other world giant automotive companies for production at the same standard. Another interesting aspect of the work is that when it is examined in the social dimension, the Prius in the American market has been used even as a political message beyond its environmentalist identity; this vehicle, which consumes less gasoline, has led to significant discussions about reducing America’s dependence on foreign markets and regimes that provide a large income from oil.

Porter states that another practice he observes from one of his most strategic corporate social approaches is to add a social dimension to a company’s value proposition (a set of needs that can only be met by its customers) and to act as a coordinated part of this social impact of the company strategy.[6] . In this context, Whole Foods Market, an American supermarket chain, which is considered an example of success, is cited by Porter. The wide range of organic products offered by Whole Foods as a ‘value proposition’, its environmentalist approach and its ability to demand high prices from its customers as a result of its commitments such as sourcing products from local farmers, increased the profits of the company and became an inseparable part of its competitive advantage with its identity sensitive to social problems.

If we look at the CSR activities in Turkey, we can see that many small and large companies carry out such activities. As a successful example, the “We Produce with Disability” Project, carried out in cooperation with Avea and the Physically Handicapped Foundation, can be considered. Within the scope of the project, it is aimed to employ disabled people in jobs suitable for their disability, education, work experience and other qualifications. Within the scope of the project, professional career planning services were provided, and the job preferences of the disabled were matched with the employee profiles of the employers, while ensuring that the disabled became self-confident and independent individuals, while also supporting sensitive employers to have a disabled workforce that would contribute significantly to their production. Private companies involved in such a project have also increased their share in the production market and subsequently in the competition market by employing disabled citizens who meet their needs.

WYG Turkey, one of the leaders of the consultancy and project management sector, continues to put CSR at the forefront in many of its works. In addition to its awareness raising activities within the scope of many projects aimed at social inclusion, gender equality and education in Turkey, Cyprus and the Middle East and North Africa region, WYG Turkey supports its activities on these issues with its activities outside the projects. The races held on behalf of TEV in the Istanbul Eurasia Marathons and the participation of company employees in many social activities of ZİÇEV (such as bazaars, lotteries) both supported the sustainability of many projects carried out by WYG Turkey and created a good CSR model by giving great support to the development of societies.

As can be seen, companies that correctly understand the reasons for the emergence of CSR and combine them in the solution of social problems within the framework of opportunities that can provide their own competitive advantage can increase their market value in production as well as gain the power to accelerate social developments in the long run as well as non-governmental organizations or governments.


[1]  Porter, M. 2008. On Competition. Boston: Harvard Business Review

[2]  Notice of the European Union (2011) number 681:

[3] ISE-30 Index Companies within the Scope of Corporate Social Responsibility Practices:

[4]  Porter, M. 2008. On Competition. Boston: Harvard Business Review


[6]  Porter, M. 2008. On Competition. Boston: Harvard Business Review

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