International Corporate Responsibility Series

Volume 3, 2007

Controversies in International Corporate Responsibility

Eric Palmer
Pages 25-33

Corporate Responsibility and Freedom

Milton Friedman’s famous comment on Corporate Social Responsibility is that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” I reply to Friedman, Michael Jensen, and others, in argument that accepts their implicit premise—that business can be a virtuous mechanism of free society—but that denies their delimitation of responsibility. The reply hinges upon precisely the virtue of “freedom” these authors clearly consider intrinsically valuable. In the extreme case where maximizing profits would place government under threat, such activity will not coincide with maximizing social value and would undermine the freedoms these authors claim to value. Responsibilities will also apply in less extreme cases, if we develop Amartya Sen’s argument showing that, “we have to see individual freedom as a social commitment.”