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.
Collaboration, consensus, and the social life of corporate social responsibility
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.
Zoe Bray and Christian Thauer
In this article, we explore how corporate social responsibility may serve to mitigate the confl ict between the utopia that many people—particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds in emerging markets states—associate with globalization and, on the other hand, the detrimental effect this globalization often actually has both on the quality of life of people and on the environment. Empirical data is drawn from field research on firm and local community relations in South Africa and China. We consider the extent to which corporate social responsibility may be a means to move beyond both utopian hopes and the dystopian reality of globalization.
Soft affirmative action, human rights, and corporate social responsibility in Brazil
Rocío Alonso Lorenzo
This article analyzes how diversity-managing and affirmative action policies targeting Afro-descendants have been introduced into Brazilian workplaces since the late 1990s. It does so by exploring how international regulations and global normative regimes, namely the human rights and the corporate social responsibility movements, have penetrated and shaped the way Brazilian companies deal with racial discrimination. Contending interpretations by executives, managers, and activists are discussed from the perspective of “new legal pluralism,” by looking at how these different actors use the norms to induce, subvert, or even evade dominant orders in specific situations. It can be concluded that, even with no legally binding force, global normative regimes have been particularly effective in creating new “sites of opportunity” for Afro-Brazilians. Conversely, the corporate social responsibility premise of going beyond the law neither challenges the ineffectiveness of the national legal system nor disqualifies illegal discriminatory market behavior.
Mining, corporate social responsibility, and the “life market”
Jerry K. Jacka
Over the last 20 years, Papua New Guinea has been at the center of a resource development boom as mining, petroleum, and logging companies extract the rich resources of this tropical Pacific island. As 97 percent of the country is owned by customary groups who correspondingly receive benefits from extraction, resource development has the potential to integrate local communities into the global economy in beneficial ways. Often, though, this is not the case, as small factions of landowners control the bulk of development proceeds. In this article, I examine the development of a coffee growing scheme adjacent to the world-class Porgera Gold Mine, intended to help local people who are marginal to mining benefit streams. Tragically, however, instead of engaging in coffee production, many disenfranchised young men in Porgera prefer to work in the “life market”—a term they use to describe tribal warfare in which groups not receiving benefits attack benefit-receiving groups in the attempt to extort monetary payments. Not only are individuals' lives at stake in the life market, but so too are the economic conditions—coffee and gold mining—that allow the life market's very existence.
Corporate Social Responsibility and Media Organisations
This article examines interpretations of the ideal media corporation by analysing corporate social responsibility engagement and communication of the largest media organisations in the world between 2000 and 2009. The study found that CSR engagement and communication are relatively limited and narrow among these firms, hence it is not surprising that public trust about them is low and perceptions of these organisations as 'demons' to society are widespread. Although CSR communication of multinational media companies has increased during the last decade, this was from a very low level of reporting and likely to have been mainly the result of organisations in the sector responding to a general trend in the corporate world towards a greater emphasis on CSR. The article argues that the increase in CSR communication arguably is part of a PR effort to improve the companies' image rather than a genuine transformation of the organisations to try to live up to the expectations of the ideal media corporation.
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.
The making of South Africa's Avon entrepreneurs
Catherine Dolan and Mary Johnstone-Louis
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.”
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.