April 22, 2014, by ICCSR

Organizing Corporate Social Responsibility

The organizing of corporate social responsibility is sometimes rather taken for granted.  Greater attention is usually given to the CSR commitments of companies or multi-actor CSR initiatives (e.g. the policies and the principles), to the CSR outputs of companies (e.g. the programmes for community, environmental, workplace or market responsibility), the business benefits of CSR (e.g. the relationships between social and financial performance), the politicisation of CSR (e.g. corporate citizenship, corporations and global governance) and, in the case of the CSR critics, the cases of corporate social irresponsibility (e.g. in the financial crisis, environmental disasters).

Andreas Rasche (Copenhagen Business School), Frank de Bakker (Free University of Amsterdam) and I decided to address this gap.  We edited a special issue of the Journal of Business Ethics, entitled ‘Complete and Partial Organizing of Corporate Social Responsibility’ consisting of eight papers: two of which were concerned with CSR communications, two with business civil society relations, and one each on CSR in small and large firms, glocalization of responsible investment, and a comparison of consensual and dissensual CSR.

Our own paper* compared ‘complete’ and ‘partial’ organizing of CSR.  Complete organizing of CSR takes place when the main elements of organization (i.e. membership, hierarchy, rules, monitoring and sanctioning) occur within the respective company, be it a corporation or an SME.  Partial organizing of CSR occurs when these elements are also located in other organizations associated with the CSR initiative (e.g. a standard or a partnership) or are absent altogether (e.g. monitoring and sanctioning are sometimes absent in CSR).

Our paper discusses the significance of whether or not these organizing elements are wholly within the company (i.e. complete organization) with not (i.e. partial organization), particularly regarding the costs and benefits of using internal and external organizing elements for CSR.

We also suggest that there has been a long-term shift from the complete to partial organizing of CSR.  CSR was conventionally assumed to be entirely corporate-centered: i.e. responsibility concerned the corporation alone, and the organizing reflected corporate discretion removed from the influences of law, public policy and other actors.  Today, however, CSR can have a much more nuanced character.  Even though corporations remain pivotal and dedicate personnel, budgets, procedures to CSR, it is now often also organized with external actors, be they business associations, multi-actor partnerships, standards, ‘soft’ governmental regulation.  As a result CSR is now better described as ‘corporate-oriented’: the responsibility concerns the sphere of the corporation (i.e. including sourcing and use of products), but the organizing is shared with civil society and governmental actors.

We suggest some further lines of research on organizing CSR.

If this is of interest, please read the paper which is available through open access.

Jeremy Moon

*Andreas Rasche, Frank G.A.de Bakker and Jeremy Moon ‘Complete and Partial Organizing for CSR’ Journal of Business Ethics 115: 4

Posted in THEMES in Better Business