The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility

By Steve May; George Cheney et al. | Go to book overview

7

Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia
A Confucian Context

GLEN WHELAN

While there is now a very extensive literature in the theory and practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR) that has been growing over the last few years, it is still, for the most part, very heavily focused on European and American cultures. This chapter therefore seeks to build upon the still relatively small amount of work conducted on CSR in Asia (e.g., Birch & Moon, 2004) by examining some of the emergent themes and issues that relate, in a fundamental way, to CSR within the region. Of central importance to this chapter is my acknowledgment that the idea of CSR is always embedded within specific social and cultural milieus. Accordingly, I begin the chapter by situating CSR within an Asian context, more specifically, within a Confucian context, for what are often termed Asian values are, in a great many instances, more accurately described as Confucian values (see Birch, 1998). Thus, in the second section, I present a brief overview of Confucian thinking, with specific emphasis on those ideas of most obvious relevance to understanding Asian business.1 Following this, I show how Confucian thinking can be seen to pervade the activities of business and government throughout the region. With these contextual discussions completed, I then introduce some of the key issues that are currently being discussed in terms of CSR throughout Asia. In the main, these discussions involve issues of corruption, cronyism, and corporate governance. Taken as a whole, these three highly interrelated issues can be termed—in borrowing the title of a work edited by Richter and Mar (2004b)—“Asia's new crisis.” Accordingly, I outline the crisis and discuss the manner in which it has called into question the values underpinning the activities of Asian business and government. In concluding the chapter, I highlight some similarities between Asia's new crisis and the corporate accounting scandal that emerged in the United States in 2001–2002. Both events, I suggest, highlight the need for increased attention to be paid to the social, legal, cultural, and moral environment within which corporations exist.


AN ASIAN CONTEXT FOR CSR

Robert Davies, chief executive of the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum, noted while speaking on Corporate Citizenship and Socially Responsible Investment in Hong Kong in 2002 that “business culture and definitions of corporate responsibility must always take account of the local context” (¶ xx). To slightly rephrase this for the present purposes, what one might say is that to have any understanding of the debates surrounding CSR within a given region, one must first understand the culture that infuses business practices within that region. Thus, and with this slight reformulation in mind, it is helpful to refer to Davies once again, who went on to note, in the same speech, that

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