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Journal cover: critical perspectives on international business

critical perspectives on international business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Online from: 2005

Subject Area: International Business

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Is CSR cognizant of the conflictuality of globalisation? A realist critique


Document Information:
Title:Is CSR cognizant of the conflictuality of globalisation? A realist critique
Author(s):Paul Sanders, (École Supérieure de Commerce Bourgogne, Dijon, France)
Citation:Paul Sanders, (2012) "Is CSR cognizant of the conflictuality of globalisation? A realist critique", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 8 Iss: 2, pp.157 - 177
Keywords:Corporate and social responsibility, Critical thinking, Developing countries, Ethics, Globalization, Neo-liberalism
Article type:Viewpoint
DOI:10.1108/17422041211230721 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Abstract:

Purpose – The article aims to cast a novel light on the extended theoretical conceptualisation of corporate citizenship, in as far as it criticises the insufficient embedding of international corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporate social performance (CSP) and sustainability initiatives in the geopolitical reality and conflictuality of the global business environment.

Design/methodology/approach – The article offers a unique interdisciplinary take on relevant research in international CSR, political science, international relations and philosophy. Its methodology is based on a literature review of these different fields.

Findings – The article argues that the rules-based nature of international CSR is based on experience in the relatively benign market context of high-income economies. However, the transposition of the code-and-compliance approach to the more conflictual context of emerging markets leads to the failure of international CSR. Its insufficient catering to the particular pressures exerted on operation in these markets reveals an idealist bias. This explains the implicit endorsement of “end-of-history” scenarios and other neo-liberal assumptions in international CSR. The article argues that this disposition does not pay credit to the need to find adequate responses to the situation. Quite to the contrary, the firm entrenchment of (neo-)liberalism in the mental mapping of CSR blocks the way to an exploration of realist alternatives. The article concludes by suggesting a shift in the CSR research agenda, from rules to institutions and agency. It proposes historical material on leadership in emergency situations and a new reading of Machiavelli to illustrate possible avenues.

Research limitations/implications – The article is based on a qualitative review and discussion of the literature, which it presents in a new light. It does not present empirical or quantitative research data. It points to a conceptual abyss separating the theory and reality of international CSR. This is particularly problematic in the light of recent deliberative models positing a “new political role” for the corporation. While this article follows the new model in its criticism of the traditional separation of politics and business, it advocates that further research is necessary to elucidate how a more realistic apprehension of global conflict and its impact on business can be combined with the “arms reach principle”. Furthermore it urges that a new model must factor in the frequent “dirty hands” problems occurring in international business.

Practical implications – The article argues that, contrary to the dominant liberal discourse in business ethics and CSR, an increasing potential for Machiavellian behavior in the corporate sector is to be expected. This is due to the absence of arbitrages, in an environment experiencing a rapid expansion of global corporate activity. This renders “code-and-compliance” CSR ineffective. The article recommends the “reframing” of CSR, to specifically include “dirty hands” issues.

Social implications – One stumbling block to a correct understanding of the contemporary challenges impacting international business operations is the (neo-)liberal globalisation paradigm - a narrative in whose manufacture business schools and management scholars are complicit.

Originality/value – The article contributes to the discussion on “systemic CSR”. The fundamental nature of the critique, as well as its interdisciplinary orientation and original recommendations, make the contribution unique.



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Qualitative research in international marketing.