Prime Minister David Cameron has said companies’ attitudes to corporate responsibility have "changed utterly" in recent years.
Cameron said the "superficial" approach of the past had been replaced by a deeper engagement with charities and causes.
His comments came yesterday during a speech to the charity Business in the Community, in which he criticised people who attack big businesses.
"We’ve got to take on certain snobbish attitudes," said Cameron. "The snobbery that says business has no inherent moral worth like the state does, that it isn’t really to be trusted, that it should stay out of social concerns."
He said companies no longer regarded corporate responsibility as just a way to win people over.
"When this movement began, some of it was quite superficial," he said. "You did get companies practising a kind of moral off-setting – allowing irresponsible things to happen day after day then once a year making a big pay-out to charity to ease their conscience.
"But over the past decade or two corporate responsibility has changed utterly. Today it’s about integrating your values deeply into the soul of your business.
"So Starbucks doesn’t just give millions to charity; it also helps coffee farmers all over the world to boost their incomes.
"BT doesn’t just support charities like ChildLine; it has a great track record in supporting women back into work after maternity leave."
Cameron said corporate responsibility was now about "doing good and doing well out of it".
Hannah Terrey, head of policy at the Charities Aid Foundation, said Cameron was right to suggest commerce can be a force for social good.
"A crucial part of doing business more responsibly is in continuing to support charities, many of which currently benefit hugely from corporate support," she said.
"But the social purpose of a company stems from its leadership. The role of chief executives in setting the right corporate culture and in acting as an example to their employees is essential if businesses are going to realise their potential for doing good."