The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility

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

22

Corporate Environmentalism

CONNIE BULLIS FUMIKO IE

As we consider the environment and corporate responsibility, we might recall ecofeminist Ynestra King's (1990) commentary when she suggested:

The piece of the pie that women have only be-
gun to sample as a result of the feminist move
ment is rotten and carcinogenic, and surely our
feminist theory and politics must take account
of this, however much we yearn for the oppor-
tunities that have been denied to us. What is
the point of partaking equally in a system that
is killing us all? (p. 106)

Although King's comments were directed largely to the feminist movement, we might well heed her thoughts as we approach issues of corporate responsibility. As we consider the social contracts under which corporations operate, King reminds us that it is pointless to focus solely on the social system without considering how that system is related to the natural system. Elsewhere she has commented that people are utterly dependent on nature (King, 1989), a dependence often forgotten in our understandings of social systems as distinct from natural systems. As corporations are more responsive to multiple stakeholders, including customers, employees, governments, people who live in places where they do business, and so forth, they need to include the natural environment as a central consideration.

Two general assumptions undergird this exploration. First, the state of the natural environment is so degraded that the quality of human life is threatened. Environmental problems pervade the earth, so much so that speculation continues over the “end of nature” and many writers express concern with whether humans have so devastated the earth's systems that it will be unable to continue to support life. With the grave projections regarding natural systems, and the future of human life itself, we might argue that any contemporary consideration of social responsibility is, at best, incomplete without the inclusion of ecological considerations. At most, we might argue that a concern with environmental responsibility must be the foundation of any understanding of social responsibility because the potential for the death of (human) life itself makes the environmental imperative primary.

Second, because corporations are such central players in terms of economic force, world scope, political power, and environmental degradation, clearly, we cannot adequately understand environmental concerns without considering the crucial roles corporations hold. A concern for the state of the environment cannot be adequately examined without considering corporations. Corporations have been cast in the role of villain in some cases and in that of hero in other instances. As environmental concerns have evolved over the years, many corporations have been heavily in

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