Corporations, Globalisation and the Law series
Edited by Nina Boeger, Rachel Murray and Charlotte Villiers
Chapter 3: Misappropriating Citizenship: The Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility
Joseph Corkin INTRODUCTION Corporate social responsibility is a slippery concept with shifting definitions, but at the very least involves a company going beyond its strict legal obligations to take into account the impact its business has on stakeholders other than its shareholders. At its most idealistic, however, it calls for business to assume a more social role; re-positioning companies as integral social partners from whom good ‘corporate citizenship’ is expected, rather than seeing them as isolated entities, valued only for their wealth generating potential, but in need of external control to prevent them damaging that which society holds dear. In critiquing these more idealistic variants, this chapter only touches superficially on the more or less sterile, empirical debates about business’s capacity to regulate itself, versus the need for state intervention. It concentrates instead on why that state intervention (or the threat of the same) is normatively desirable in itself. In taking responsibility for promoting the social good, the state, in all its manifest forms,1 realizes its citizens’ popular sovereignty because it is via the apparatus of the state that they, operating as equal members of a self-governing political community, exert control over the market, to push business (whether directly, through formal legal intervention, or indirectly, by the threat of the same) in what they consider a socially useful direction in which it would otherwise not travel. The idea of corporate social responsibility is generally studied from the perspective of business – how companies can behave more responsibly – but can be...
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