The Business Case for CSR: A Critique and an Indirect Path Forward

Business & Society, Forthcoming

34 Pages Posted: 24 May 2016

See all articles by Michael L. Barnett

Michael L. Barnett

Rutgers Business School, Newark & New Brunswick

Date Written: May 22, 2016


Do firms benefit from their voluntary efforts to alleviate the many problems confronting society? A vast literature establishing a “business case” for corporate social responsibility appears to find that usually they do. However, as argued herein, the business case literature has established only that firms usually benefit from responding to the demands of their primary stakeholders. The nature of the relationship between the interests of business and those of broader society, beyond a subset of powerful primary stakeholders, remains an open question despite this vast literature. This article develops a set of propositions that highlight constraints on firms’ ability to profit from corporate social responsibility and outlines a set of managerial challenges on which researchers must focus their attention in order to truly determine whether and when firms can profit by responding to the needs of society.

Keywords: corporate social responsibility, business case, stakeholder theory, social welfare

Suggested Citation

Barnett, Michael L., The Business Case for CSR: A Critique and an Indirect Path Forward (May 22, 2016). Business & Society, Forthcoming , Available at SSRN:

Michael L. Barnett (Contact Author)

Rutgers Business School, Newark & New Brunswick ( email )

United States


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