Corporate Social Responsibility
A Turn Toward the Business Case?
METTE MORSING ATLE MIDTTUN KARL PALMÅS
Scandinavian companies have a long history of integrating issues of ethics and social responsibility into corporate strategies, and today these issues seem to appear with a renewed urgency in the wake of globalization. While Scandinavian companies since the 1980s have been exposed to strong environmental regulation and so have integrated environmental concerns into their business strategies for a number of years, many Scandinavian managers also claim that ethics and social responsibilities always have been an inherent way of doing business. Often, the social initiatives have been implemented in an informal and even implicit way as a response to current local expectations and demands. Lately, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) discussions in Scandinavian companies engage a new tone of international concern and call for a systematic and conspicuous corporate commitment as Scandinavian companies experience the consequences of globalization.
In this chapter, we explore the interplay among state, society, and business as we depict how CSR unfolds in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. First, we briefly outline five analytical approaches to CSR and position the Scandinavian perspectives. Then, we outline some characteristics in the Scandinavian context for CSR initiatives in the small welfare states. Next, we introduce how CSR unfolds in each of the three countries: in what shape it emerged, what stakeholders were involved, and how it is developing today. We follow this with an outline of selected Scandinavian industries' CSR activities based on an empirical study. We end the chapter with a discussion of future challenges for CSR in Scandinavian companies.
While discussions of CSR and the influence of stakeholders are as old as the concept of the corporation itself (Carroll, 1999), it has developed throughout the twentieth century and engendered many conceptualizations. Across theories of stakeholder relations, there is a shared assumption that stakeholder engagement is critical and that CSR initiatives are needed. We define CSR initiatives as those actions taken to bridge organizational and stakeholder expectations. The stakeholder theories differ, however, in their conceptualizations of the corporate commitment to CSR, but across theories there is a general agreement on the distinction between CSR stemming from a desire to do good, that is, the “normative case,” and CSR reflecting an enlightened self-interest, that is, the “business case” (Smith, 2004). In our understanding of the business case, it is a question of companies' attempts to make rational sense of their CSR engagement and so arguing beyond the obligation to society as reason for engaging in CSR activities.
In her book Value Shift, Lynn Sharp Paine (2000) at Harvard Business School develops four