Towards Social Accountability
Chapter 10: Corporate voluntarism: responsibility or accountability?
From an optimists’ point of view CSR has stimulated important ethical and social reconnections with social causes and problems. Notable social links include: the ‘mainstreaming’ of ethical trading (such as Fairtrade) into multinationals’ sourcing practices, the adoption of environmental sustainability as a business strategy, as well as MNC participation in forums (‘multi-stakeholder initiatives’) for so-called civil society regulation. These include the Ethical Trading Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council, and, more broadly, ethical business strategies, corporate codes of conduct (CoC) and the proliferation of ‘stakeholder engagement’: ‘partnerships’ with charities, NGOs and community organisations, plus corporations’ enhancement of social/environmental reporting. All of these could be cited as evidence of greater concern, transparency and openness by big business. Is this, in business-speak, a ‘win-win’ situation for social interests and corporations? Or does their very popularity with business indicate little real change and the need to aim for obligatory responsiveness rather than voluntaristic adoption of ‘responsibilities’? More critical perspectives point out the limited effect corporate responsibility approaches have had in reducing the autonomous powers and general social insularity of corporations. The extent to which stakeholder engagement and CSR is increasing social re-integration can be gauged from Bendell’s distinction between responsibility and accountability (Bendell 2004, p._18).
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