August 15, 2012, by ICCSR

Is there a different CSR future in Asia?

Presumably! However, we still do not know the exact answer. At this year’s ICCSR Conference CSR Futures, we raised this timely issue in the CSR Asia dedicated track: Asian CSR and its dynamics.

Why Asia?

Asia is emerging as indicated by its astonishing economic growth and opportunities. However, as Kent Walker, one of the presenters at the Asian track pointed out, there is little knowledge of CSR in the Asian region including China. Accordingly, the exploration of the CSR dynamics in Asia is necessary at this time. Is CSR a global concept or is it possible to identify a more specific Asian perspective? Can we trace and offer a distinct perspective in the evolution of CSR in Asian countries and gain better understanding in regards to the current CSR dynamics? We invited theoretical and empirical papers that try to identify CSR issues from different Asian countries.

What did we find?

Many academics and practitioners from Asia (e.g., China & Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Korea) as well as the individuals who were interested in CSR in Asia from around the globe attended the conference and expressed their concerns and criticisms throughout the event. As a track chair, I summarized the key themes and questions as follows:

1)      CSR is about RELATIONSHIPS in Asia?

–          Relationships are critical and a key issue for corporations that wish to commence business and gain legitimacy in the Asian market and community. Ali Yasak and Avvari V. Mohan identified CSR as a symbiotic relationship practices with the case of Malaysia. They investigated what pattern of symbiotic relationship there is between organisation and its network and argued that the symbiotic relationship gives stable support services and competitive advantage for the organisation. Whereas, Kent Worker through the case of China found out the lack of significant relationships between environmental responsibility and competitive advantage. Yes, there is complex relationship with company motivation and stakeholder pressures!

–          Likewise, CSR is very much linked to the relationships in Asia. This unique approach is criticised by a number of scholars, particularly Western scholars, because of its instrumental purposes, lack of transparency, and the fact it may lead into moral danger; for instance, the dangers of nepotism or cronyism. This is why it is argued that the characteristics of a ‘relationship’ focus, often referred to as a ‘backdoor connection’, works negatively with CSR.

2)      Why is there a strange boom of ‘SOCIAL ENTERPRISE (SE)’ in Asia?

–          Among other issues, Rebecca Chung-hee Kim and Yong-hee Yang critically raised the concern on the emergence of social enterprise in Korea. They argued that it was almost political activity in the country and there has been very little scholarship that questioned the genuine CSR of SEs. Whilst positive arguments on SE is predominant, they witnessed that due to high emphasis upon addressing external social and economic concerns, the authentic relationships of social enterprise with CSR is questionable.

–          Others questioned and expressed concerns on this myopic focuses on the quantitative expansion of SE (but not on the quality and sustainability of it). Some suggested that there needs to be guidance to policy/management strategies for the reform and future survival of SE. Most of all, to policy makers, direct financial support may create moral hazard of social entrepreneurs as can be seen from the failures demonstrated by some cases in Korea.  

Finally, CSR is entering a growth spurt after a time of enlightenment in Asia. We perceive the expectations and disappointment on CSR at the same time. If then, how do we transfer more expectations into the reality? I look forward to receiving your continuous comments and ideas on Asian CSR!  

By Dr Rebecca Chung-hee Kim
Assistant Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility and International Management, Nottingham University Business School, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

 Image University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus copyright University of Nottingham


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