The Planetary Bargain: Corporate Social Responsibility Comes of Age

Article excerpt

Hopkins, Michael. The planetary bargain: Corporate social responsibility comes of age. Basingstoke, UK, Macmillan, 1999. xvi + 229 pp. Tables, figures, index. ISBN 0-312-21833-8.

This interesting book takes a broad approach to examining corporate social responsibility in both its conceptual framework and the practical case studies it considers. It focuses on multinational enterprises and their social responsibility in globalization. Hopkins is not concerned with social initiatives, corporate citizenship, community involvement or social responsiveness, but with the social responsibility enterprises voluntarily enter into - and which he considers needs to be promoted in a global "planetary bargain" between international organizations and 300-400 representatives of multinational enterprises. For his sources, the author relies on published materials (books, papers, brochures, Internet home pages, corporate annual reports, press releases, social audit reports, etc.) rather than structured interviews and surveys.

He makes an interesting attempt at quantifying corporate social responsibility in order to make a meaningful comparison and ranking of socially responsible enterprises in the United Kingdom and the United States. However, the definitions and frameworks the author proposes for corporate social responsibility and the planetary bargain are not sufficiently clear. He considers that the communities or groups of stakeholders primarily concerned by such a planetary bargain include: owners/investors, management, employees, customers, the wider community including government, and contractors/suppliers. But it is not clear whether the proposed planetary bargain ought to be a once-and-for-all negotiation to arrive at a common framework, global guideline and international standard, or a continuing consultative process of bipartite dialogue between the international organizations and the private sector. Who should represent enterprises? Who should represent the international organizations?

In particular, the roles of trade unions or workers' representatives are not clear. Corporate social responsibility per se does not guarantee fundamental workers' principles, basic human rights and sound environmental practices. These cannot be ensured without the appropriate involvement of workers in enterprise management. It is employees' representatives who can best consult with management on financial, social and environmental practices. Employees and managers are internal stakeholders within enterprises and are thus in the best position to understand the behaviour of their own enterprises.

Nor is the role of national governments clear. Enterprise behaviour tends to respond to changes in the legal, regulatory and fiscal environment and also to changes in the economic, social, political, technological and ecological environment. Depending upon the tax environment, corporate behaviour is more or less capital-friendly and economic/efficiency-minded; it can also be better disposed towards employment creation workers and communities, be more socially-minded, or more ready to consider environmental issues. Enterprises also respond to changes in the interests and concerns of stakeholders such as consumers, distributors, retailers, suppliers, shareholders, investors, commercial banks, governments, etc. and take them not only as new business opportunities but also as opportunities for increased productivity and competitiveness.

So it may be appropriate for representatives of the employers, workers and government to be properly involved in such a planetary bargain.

Despite all these questions, the book does open up some important new frontiers. It contributes significantly to discussions on corporate social responsibility in global terms by making a number of positive suggestions. It also lays down a tentative conceptual and practical framework for the planetary bargain it proposes. The next question might be whether to attempt a continuing step-by-step approach to deal with specific issues or stakeholders, or to seek more comprehensive agreement at once. …