This paper explores the nature of the relationship between corporate social responsibility (CSR) and competitiveness. We start with the commonly held view that firm competitiveness is defined by the market. That is, the question of what are the critical competitiveness factors is answered by looking at how companies and financial analysts describe and evaluate a firm. To analyze this, we review the current state of the art on the relationship between CSR and competitiveness. Second, CSR criteria used by financial analysts is identified and compared with company valuation methods. Third, the results of a multi-stakeholder dialogue on CSR and competitiveness of the European financial sector are presented. As a conclusion, we argue that CSR and competitiveness relate through a learning and innovation cycle, where corporate values, policies and practices are permanently defined and re-defined. Thus, we propose that learning takes place as CSR is embedded in business processes, and that once it has been integrated, in turn, it generates innovative practices, and finally, competitiveness. At the end of the paper, we propose that CSR in practice consists of managing inherent paradoxes generated by the tension between CSR and business policies.