This book has traced the US history of corporate responsibility from its roots in the eighteenth century through the Industrial Revolution, the advent of capitalism, and the growth of the modern corporation. During the decades since World War II, there has been conditional acceptance and conditional rejection of both the idea and the practice of corporate responsibility. At the same time, we have witnessed the decline of the communist alternative, elevated concern for human rights, the systematic globalization of manufacturing, consumer, and financial markets, and a new worldwide environmental awareness – factors that will no doubt influence the future of corporate responsibility. The “social contract” between business and society – a quaint concept to twenty-first century cynics – has evolved and will continue to do so going forward.
In closing this historical narrative, it is useful to reflect briefly on the patterns of corporate responsibility and its prospects for the future. The patterns will remind us of key elements of the history, and occasionally suggest lessons to be learned from it. The prospects involve not prophecy but realistic forethought. What might corporate responsibility become during the next twenty-five to fifty years? As these chapters have shown, much can change in a decade or two, but many patterns will endure.