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http://ssrn.com/abstract=691521
 
 

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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


University of Illinois College of Law ; Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

March 23, 2005

UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-16

Abstract:     
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

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Date posted: March 25, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Conley, John M. and Williams, Cynthia A., Engage, Embed, and Embellish: Theory Versus Practice in the Corporate Social Responsibility Movement (March 23, 2005). UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-16. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=691521 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.691521

Contact Information

John M. Conley (Contact Author)
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law ( email )
Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-8502 (Phone)
Cynthia A. Williams
University of Illinois College of Law ( email )
504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
217-333-3966 (Phone)
217-244-1478 (Fax)
Osgoode Hall Law School, York University ( email )
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Canada
416-736-5545 (Phone)
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