Engage, Embed, and Embellish: Theory Versus Practice in the Corporate Social Responsibility Movement
John M. Conley
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law
Cynthia A. Williams
York University - Osgoode Hall Law School
March 23, 2005
UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-16
This article uses the techniques of anthropology and linguistics to assess the behavior of corporations, non-governmental organizations, and other principals as they participate in the burgeoning worldwide movement to improve the social and environmental conduct of multinational companies. On a theoretical level, the article analyzes the corporate social responsibility movement as an exercise in "the new governance," a term coined by political scientists to describe a recent trend (especially prominent outside of this country) toward diffusing regulatory authority among governmental agencies, private actors such as NGOs, and regulated companies themselves. The ultimate question is whether the new behaviors demanded by CSR advocates will amount to substance or mere form. Over the past two years we have interviewed large numbers of CSR specialists and participants, have participated in and observed a number of CSR events, and have done detailed linguistic analyses of corporate CSR reports. Our conclusion is mixed: while the CSR movement has clearly brought more transparency to the non-financial performance of large corporations, it has also created subtle but significant opportunities for those corporations to manage criticism and debate and thereby enhance their power. Testing the new governance theoretical model against these same developments, we conclude that some of the major concerns of new governance critics - especially problems with representation and accountability - are in abundant evidence in the CSR movement.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 63
Keywords: anthropology, linguistics, corporate social responsibility, new governance, NGOs, corporations
JEL Classification: K00, K22
Date posted: March 25, 2005
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