The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility

By Steve May; George Cheney et al. | Go to book overview
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Corporate Governance, Corporate Social
Responsibility, and Communication


Both corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate governance have become major international issues. Many of the reasons for this appear in this volume. Only a few are reviewed here. The more central interest is in showing the intertwined nature of governance, responsibility, and the quality of social and economic choices. Arguably, corporate governance reform provides the best hope for addressing the problems of our times and providing a synergistic relation between CSR and economic viability. But different reforms provide different hopes and possibilities. These differences are of concern here. Any analysis has to remain relatively abstract given the complex differences arising from industries, national laws and policies, and specific historical exigencies. Nonetheless, some general directions can be given that might focus the development of specific contextualized responses.

The flow of the argument of this chapter is thus: contemporary concerns with both corporate governance and CSR have arisen from organizational failures and negative social consequences that appear to be systemic in nature. The systemic quality is created by corporate governance structures and processes that enable the exaggerated representation of some values and interests and the omission of others. Organizational decisions are inevitably interested and value laden rather than simply economically rational, but the various conflicting values and interests in society have not been given an equal opportunity to influence decision making. Significant public decisions are made in the corporate site, creating systematic distortions in social and economic developments and posing important moral and political questions.

Traditional governance models have counted on some combination of managerial stewardship, governmental regulation, and consumer choices to make operant wider social values. For a variety of well-documented reasons, these have each become less effective in providing guidance (Deetz, 1995a; Kelly, 2001; Schmookler, 1992). Whether based on rights or need for performance, getting social values and interests into the decisional premises, processes, and routines has become an ever more pressing problem. Stakeholder collaboration becomes one promising alternative. The central questions—Whose objectives should count? How much should they count? How will they be accounted for?—arise in all modern organizations. Beyond the political aims of a new form of governance, evidence suggests that the presence of diverse values can aid creativity, constituent commitment, workplace coordination, and product and service customization, and that these are especially important for the competitiveness of postindustrial societies and in the more knowledge-intensive industries where forms of social and intellectual capital are central.

Stakeholder governance models offer possible political and economic benefits. Still, stakeholder collaboration remains fairly underdeveloped and


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