The fundamental idea of corporate social responsibility ''is that business and society are inter- woven rather than distinct entities'' and that business must therefore meet particular societal expectations regarding their social, environmental, and economic activities. The concept refers to the discourses, practices, policy initiatives, and disciplines that shape these societal expectations, as well as internal value systems, voluntary practices of corporations, and legal requirements pertaining to those activities.
Social movement groups, ethical consumers, and socially responsible investors and corporations themselves have driven the demand for modern conceptions of CSR. However, there has been little agreement among groups about the content areas, standards, and governance of social responsibility. While the business community has generally sought voluntary mechanisms, most social movement groups have advocated at least some level of legally binding structures.
While proponents see voluntary efforts as important steps in orienting corporations to the public good, critical perspectives emphasize voluntary CSR initiatives as an organized strategy by corporations to preempt stricter laws and regulations. Critical perspectives argue that if corporations' only legal responsibility is to make profits, it is impossible for them to adopt socially responsible practices.