The bottom-of-the-pyramid (BOP) approach is championed as a way to deliver both corporate profits and poverty reduction. This article explores how “the poor” are repurposed as the instruments of ethical capitalism through the archetypal BOP model—Avon Cosmetics. A harbinger of “compassionate capitalism,” Avon has long stylized its entrepreneurial opportunity as a channel to a transcendent realm of self-actualization and social transformation. The company pursues this vision through a set of discourses and calculative practices that aim to produce industrious, self-disciplined, and empowered “entrepreneurs.” However, while BOP systems like Avon may provide a viable income stream for “poor” women, the practices through which women are “converted” into enterprising subjects can confound their intended “empowerment” effects. The article suggests that while targeting the “bottom of the pyramid” may elide the distinction between the maximization of profit and the imperatives of sustainable development, devolving corporate social responsibility (CSR) to the “entrepreneurial poor” raises questions about the implications of “making poverty business.”
The making of South Africa's Avon entrepreneurs
Catherine Dolan and Mary Johnstone-Louis
Political-Anthropological Concerns on Corporate Social Responsibility
K. Ravi Raman
By critiquing corporate social responsibility (CSR) as discourse and practice, it is argued in this article that CSR conceals its own invention and intentions. CSR is found to be problematic as it is yet another legitimating discursive domain that serves only the colonization process of corporate, oligarchic power structures. The present article attempts to traverse the complex maze that currently constitutes the theory and practice of CSR through a juxtaposition of the expressed acceptance of CSR by one of the world's biggest oligarchic-corporate structures, the US-based Coca-Cola Company, and the lived experience of village communities that have borne the ill-effects of its operations in India.
Explaining the Rise of Corporate Social Responsibility in China
Ka Lin, Dan Banik and Longfei Yi
Although the notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been largely Western driven, it has now also entered the popular discourse in many non-Western countries. In dissimilar social settings, the driving force of CSR development differs between its Western origins and its non-Western adaptors. This study examines the developmental dynamics of CSR in China, and how such force have influenced the CSR discourse in this country. This Chinese experience helps illustrate how an exogenous path of CSR development evolved in China. With this experience, we maintain that the standards of CSR have instrumental value in promoting social quality through its function on enterprises, in regard to improvising social relations of the companies with their employees, the local communities, and the public agents of localities.
Navigating a critical ethnography of wealth elites
Drawing on ethnographic research on philanthropy within a Brazilian family business, this article proposes a “critical ethnography” of wealth elites. This family’s narrative of historical commitment to social responsibility is crucial to the success of delicate succession processes within the family firm. By insuring the reproduction of the wealth and status of elite families, such business succession processes serve in turn to maintain the structural inequalities shaping Brazilian society. In this family’s account of its past, however, a series of very different activities— rooted in philanthropy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), labor legislation, and commerce—are collapsed within a single, coherent narrative of historical commitment to social responsibility, which sits at odds with alternative versions of this history presented by sources outside the family.
Collaboration, consensus, and the social life of corporate social responsibility
In recent years transnational corporations have become major players in the development arena. The rise of corporate social responsibility (CSR) elevates corporations as leaders in a new orthodoxy of business-led development that promotes empowerment through “the market” as the panacea for global poverty. This vision has recruited support from disparate actors, turning combatants into collaborators. This article is based on thirteen months of multisited fieldwork, tracking the performance of CSR through the circuit of conventions and policy forums that constitute the social life of CSR. I argue that by claiming the confluence of doing good business and doing good, commitment to the market logic of maximisation is not only maintained, but endowed with a moral legitimacy and celebrated as the elusive win-win solution for which the development industry continues to search.
Materializing CSR in the diamond supply chain
This article examines efforts by De Beers, the world’s largest supplier of rough diamonds, to better regulate the conditions under which its stones are cut and polished across a global network of buyers, contractors, and subcontractors. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork at an offshore processing unit in South India that was built to service De Beers’ buyers, this article explores how ethical accounting regimes are materialized on the floor of a global factory and how they are grounded in an industrial bureaucracy. In a global supply chain like this one, I argue, codes of practice and audit checklists demand to be understood as material technologies that afford companies and individuals new purchase on an ethic of detachment.
Ethnographies of corporate ethicizing
Catherine Dolan and Dinah Rajak
As the global community confronts increasing economic, social, and environmental challenges, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement has demonstrated a powerful capacity to offer itself up as a solution, circulating new ethical regimes of accountability and sustainability in business. This article introduces five contributions that explore ethnographically the meanings, practices, and impact of corporate social and environmental responsibility across a range of transnational corporations and geographical locations (India, South Africa, the UK, Chile, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In each of these contexts corporations are performing ethics in different ways and to different ends, from the mundane to the ritualistic and from the discursive to the material, drawing a range of actors, interests, and agendas into the moral fold of CSR. Yet across these diverse sites a set of common tensions in the practice and discourse of CSR emerge, as the supposedly “win-win” marriage between the social and the technical, the market and morality, and the natural and the cultural becomes routinized in global management practice. By tracing the connections and conflicts between the local micropolitics of corporate engagement and the global movements of CSR, the collection reveals the ambiguous and shifting nature of CSR and the ways in which social and environmental relations are transformed through the regime of ethical capitalism.
Moral contests and ethical possibilities in mining impact reporting
Subterranean waters in the mineral-rich and water-poor Atacama desert, northern Chile, are subject to contest between resource-extracting companies and mostly indigenous residents. In complying with global Corporate Social Responsibility standards and local agreements, and in an effort to reduce opposition from indigenous groups, some mining companies have begun to undertake “transparency” reporting regarding the impact of their subterranean water extraction activities. These engagements present a moral interface between two streams of global discourse: the CSR principle of “transparency” on impacts of water extraction and the rights of indigenous peoples to “native waters.” An ethnographic study of a set of such engagements shows indigenous community rejection of the truths that transparency purports to reveal. However, the apparent intractability of moral contest in such globally comparative and locally specific contexts in terms of distrust of the mining companies is tempered by a proposition for the ethics of engagement.