Large corporations have long been the focus of corporate social responsibility (CSR) studies. Such studies seem to support the separation thesis, which suggests that business and ethics are mutually exclusive. However, reexamining the role of small businesses in the history of CSR challenges the separation thesis and provides a new perspective on the relationship between business and society. A historical case study of the Rotary Club demonstrates how mixing business and moral decision making has benefited small business owners in the past. Mark Tadajewski recently explored this topic in his article “The Rotary Club and the Promotion of the Social Responsibilities of Business in the Early 20th Century” from Business & Society.
The separation thesis states that business and moral decision making should and can be differentiated clearly. This study provides empirical support for the competing view that the separation thesis is impossible through a case study of the Rotary Club, which fosters an ethical orientation among its global business and professional membership. The study focuses attention on the Club in the early to middle 20th century. Based on a reading of their service doctrine, the four objects of Rotary and the Four Way Test, the author argues that the example of the Rotary Club undermines the separation thesis. The Rotary message was conceptually ambiguous: it did not clearly differentiate business roles from social activities; rather both fed into each other, with the business tools developed by members and disseminated by Rotary, utilized in nonbusiness contexts with a view to enhancing societal well-being.
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