Beyond Regulation: A Comparative Look at State-Centric Corporate Social Responsibility and the Law in China

68 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2012 Last revised: 5 Nov 2014

Date Written: August 18, 2012


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often understood as voluntary actions firms take beyond legal compliance. However, in recent years, governments around the world have also begun to actively promote CSR, reflecting broader governance trends that embrace “soft law,” voluntary standards, and other novel incentive structures to move companies toward and beyond minimum regulatory goals. Comparative legal scholarship has only recently begun to consider the intersections of such mechanisms with positive law, formal institutions, and traditional regulatory enforcement structures. The adoption of these policies in historically weak regulatory environments raises particularly puzzling questions about their motivation, scope, and potential.

As a leader among emerging markets, China offers an important context to consider state CSR policies and the role of alternative regulatory tools in legal implementation. This article adopts a comparative perspective to examine how national and subnational governments in China advance CSR. Based on primary interview data, it develops a state-centric model of corporate social responsibility that contrasts with both the market-based model adopted by U.S. governments and the relational model advanced by European Union member states. This article concludes by considering the implications of state-centric corporate social responsibility initiatives for norm creation and legal implementation. It contributes to the growing comparative literature on the role of governments in advancing CSR and to the regulatory literature examining the intersections of law and alternative accountability mechanisms in shaping corporate behavior.

Keywords: corporate social responsibility, governance, comparative, legal compliance

JEL Classification: K32, K42, L21, M14

Suggested Citation

Harper Ho, Virginia E., Beyond Regulation: A Comparative Look at State-Centric Corporate Social Responsibility and the Law in China (August 18, 2012). 46 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 375 (2013), Available at SSRN: or

Virginia E. Harper Ho (Contact Author)

University of Kansas - School of Law ( email )

Green Hall
1535 W. 15th Street
Lawrence, KS 66045-7577
United States
785-864-9217 (Phone)
785-864-5054 (Fax)


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