Leading the way is the New Academy of Business. Set up in 1995 by Anita Roddick, whose chain of beauty stores, The Body Shop, pioneered the concept of green economics, this independent educational body aims to bring together values-led business practice with progressive management thinking - and get it firmly established on the business school curriculum.
Under the catch-all phrase of corporate responsibility, the New Academy focuses on four areas: developing international trade in ways that enhance social justice and human rights; the need to protect the environment and pursue sustainable development; the responsibilities of business to its own local and national communities; and the development of enlightened and creative workplaces. These are not just the province of idealists, insists New Academy director David Mathew:
"Companies are increasingly visible through globalisation of communications and IT. If you are involved in something like child labour, for example, it is exposed quite quickly now."
With 50 of the world's top 100 institutions now corporations, rather than governments, companies are now the major social institutions of our time, he believes. "They are huge forces for good or ill in the world, and people within them are thinking more and more about how to respond to this increasing power."
Call it idealism or realism, but many MBA students are now not only interested in a company's product or employee perks, but what it's trying to do in the world.
"People are becoming quite aware of the economic, social and environmental devastation that traditional models of business are wreaking," says Judi Marshall, professor of organisational behaviour, and director of Bath Business School's MSc in Responsibility in Business Practice. "They are questioning the nature of business and what corporations can get away with, and want to be in an organisation where the values are congruent with their own. Young managers can't believe that businesses are not concerned about their ecological footprint, and those people can be a powerful influence for change."
But it is not just a matter of principles. The whole concept of corporate responsibility is thriving because big businesses are increasingly aware of the importance of reputation when it comes to competitive edge.
"Even companies which don't believe in looking at environmental impact recognise that they may go out of business if they don't take this on board," says Professor Marshall.
"Even if they are really self interested, they know they have to work on their reputation."
The role of business schools is to bring corporate responsibility into the mainstream. Schools can help break the belief that business is about shareholder value, that anything else is too touchy-feely, by emphasising that there are other moral and human reasons to consider.
Lancaster Business School, which prides itself on its tradition of critical reflection on management and business, encourages MBA students and corporate clients to ponder just these moral and human reasons, and most are very willing and keen to do so, says Dr Rick Crawley, director of MBA programmes: "There is often tension in an organisation between an individual's values and beliefs, and the pressure from the business. The question then becomes how do you behave and what decisions do you make? And what price do you pay personally in terms of your feelings and position? These are things that many managers welcome the chance to discuss."
Whereas many business schools tackle these sorts of issues in a neatly parcelled ethics module, Warwick has adopted a more integrated approach. Its Corporate Citizenship Unit, set up in 1996 has eschewed a separate course in favour of integrating corporate responsibility into mainstream MBA courses.
"Teaching corporate citizenship as part of other courses not only puts the issues into context, but there are so many instances in business where it's not just about ethics but about losing revenue," says Jorg Andriof, research fellow at the Unit.
"If companies don't act as responsible corporate citizens they risk losing market share and their licence to operate."Reuse content