Corporate Social Responsibility – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In this article I critically analyze contemporary discourses of corporate social responsibility and related discourses of sustainability and corporate citizenship. I argue that despite their emancipatory rhetoric, discourses of corporate citizenship, social responsibility and sustainability are defined by narrow business interests and serve to curtail interests of external stakeholders. I provide an alternate perspective, one that views discourses of corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability as ideological movements that are intended to legitimize and consolidate the power of large corporations. I also problematize the popular notion of organizational  ‘stakeholders’. I argue that stakeholder theory of the firm represents a form of stakeholder colonialism that serves to regulate the behavior of stakeholders. I conclude by discussing implications for critical management studies. Mahatma Gandhi was once asked by a newspaper reporter in London what he thought of Western civilization. Gandhi replied that it might be a good idea. Perhaps the same thing applies to corporate social responsibility – it may be a good idea provided it creates genuine change rather than reacting to changes in the political economy. Restoring a sense of social justice and equity cannot be achieved through ‘some final triumph of the corporation over the body and soul of humanity, but some sort of power that confronts business’. As we debate issues of corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, sustainability and stakeholders, let us never lose sight of the fact that companies are not the only inhabitants of this planet.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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