It is generally asserted that corporate social reporting (CSR) is a phenomenon of the late 20th century. The present paper contests this view by looking at the ways in which British companies reacted to the challenges they faced during the First World War, when they were exposed to charges of profiteering, as well as to industrial unrest and high taxation. The paper considers the use of the speeches made by chairmen at annual general meetings to refute these charges and defend themselves. It considers the relevance of these findings for contemporary social reporting, and suggests that investigation of the history of CSR is likely to show further examples of its use by companies to put forward “the business case”.

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