Chapter 9: How persuasive is corporate social responsibility?
The increased attention to the idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR), its inclusion in corporate strategies, and the growth of the CSR ‘industry’ has been remarkable. In the UK an idea that was regarded as marginal, eccentric and largely dismissed by both proponents and critics of corporate capitalism became respectable from the early 1980s and is now firmly mainstream. The rise of CSR can only be explained in the context of other major changes in society, the economy and political ideology. Among those changes are the increased criticism of the corporation already outlined Chapter 8 but, of course, CSR is reflective of much more profound changes. Indeed, the CSR phenomenon illustrates, and provides evidence for, many of the themes explored in this book including, paradoxically, corporate political power. Every mention of corporate social responsibility is simultaneously an affirmation of market power and hence a recognition that perfectly competitive markets are an illusion. Unless it is recognised that corporations have economic power, which can be translated into social and political power, then CSR is, by definition, nonsense. In a world of perfect markets CSR is impossible.
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