Corporate social responsibility only works if employees at all levels believe in it, British employers have been warned.
CSR, according to a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, cannot be imposed by management and there has to be buy-in across the organisation to embed it within the business.
But if an organisation truly embraces CSR, it can act as a powerful lever for attracting and retaining good people, the CIPD added.
The organisation is currently working to promote awareness and understanding of a new CSR Competency Framework that has been developed by the Department of Trade and Industry.
As part of this, the CIPD polled 12 major organisations to look at how people management contributed to effective CSR initiatives.
Mike Emmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, said: "CSR can have a major impact on external and internal perceptions of an organisation.
"It can help employers address business issues, such as improved recruitment and retention, reputation and staff commitment.
"But organisations must also recognise that social and environmental reporting is not enough to protect an organisations image, and can backfire unless the organisation has genuinely embedded values and cultural change," he added.
Employers needed to make sure they were consistent in what they said and did, otherwise employees would become increasingly sceptical and cynical about what their organisation was doing, and why.
"This means ensuring CSR principles are reflected in the way the organisation manages its people and the processes it uses for recruitment and selection, training and development and performance management," said Mike Emmott.
Simply putting CSR initiatives in place for external consumption or because it can be good PR was not enough, he added.
Malcolm Wicks, CSR minister, said: "The research presented in this report demonstrates the value of effective people management as a way to develop and implement CSR principles across various business activities.
"HR plays a pivotal role in delivering responsible business practice, and should be central to a company's engagement in the CSR agenda," he added.