The Cycles of Corporate Social Responsibility: An Historical Retrospective for the Twenty-First Century

64 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2008  

Harwell Wells

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Abstract

Debates over Corporate Social Responsibility stretch from the 1930s to the twenty-first century, and have engaged some of the leading minds of the era. In the legal academy, these debates have tended to focus on whether corporate managers and directors should owe duties to shareholders alone, or whether the scope of their legal responsibilities should be widened to include employees, communities, consumers, and other "stakeholders" in the enterprises. But there is a problem with these debates: they rarely seem to have gone anywhere. Viewed in historical perspective, each new round of debate on corporate social responsibility seems merely to recapitulate earlier debates in a slightly altered form. This Article traces out these debates over corporate social responsibility in order to provide contemporary students of CSR a vantage-point from which they can critically evaluate their predecessors, and separate out the still-vital elements in those debates from the lost causes.

Keywords: corporate social responsibility, corporations, history, Adolf Berle, CSR

JEL Classification: K22, K49

Suggested Citation

Wells, Harwell, The Cycles of Corporate Social Responsibility: An Historical Retrospective for the Twenty-First Century. U. Kan. L. Rev., Vol. 51, p. 77-140, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1121899

Harwell Wells (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-1183 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

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