Instrumental and political currents in the CSR debate

On the demise and (possible) resurgence of ‘ethics’

Authored by: Steen Vallentin

The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415821261
eBook ISBN: 9780203566848
Adobe ISBN: 9781136746246


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In 2005 it was famously declared in a critical survey in The Economist that the advocates of CSR (corporate social responsibility) seemed to have won ‘the battle of ideas’. It was, however, also suggested that the victory was a shallow one as the tenets of the CSR doctrine failed to penetrate very deeply into corporate practices and effect more profound change (Crook, 2005). This is not a new story. As long as CSR has been debated, it has been argued that individual companies are severely limited in the degree of social responsibility they can attain (Chamberlain, 1973). Even firms that are relatively successful in this area will “inevitably face not only the limits imposed by economic factors but the unwillingness of the general public to sacrifice its addiction to high levels of consumption for the achievement of less tangible social goals” (Frederick, 1978/1994: 156). More recently it has been argued that the institutional forces of capitalism that drive business and the corporate form forward immediately transpose most gestures of responsibility into something that resembles a farce (Fleming and Jones, 2013).

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