Beyond csr?: business, poverty and social justice

Beyond csr?: business, poverty and social justice

Critical perspectives on CSR as an approach to international development

This briefing paper presents some of the key cross-cutting insights from the work of the International Research Network on Business, Development and Society which critically examines the adoption of Corporate Social Responsibility as an approach to international development.

Findings of the brief include:

  • despite attempts to formulate generally applicable definitions, there is a lack of clear consensus about what is and what is not CSR, reflecting a more fundamental debate about the appropriate role of the corporation in society
  • the role of business in development should not only rely on appeals to immediate self-interest (i.e. the business case) but instead emphasise the duties and obligations of firms to help confront problems facing the societies in which they operate
  • CSR initiatives work for some firms, in some places, in tackling some issues, some of the time and research should explore the potential and limitations of CSR in specific settings
  • though many CSR initiatives focus on output, improved auditing and benchmarking of firms’ performance in relation to specified standards and codes, more importance needs to be given to of process in CSR initiatives if they are to benefit poorer groups
  • it remains the role of governments, supported by donors and working with firms, civil society groups and researchers, to enable a more critical CSR agenda
  • CSR strategies need to graft onto, enhance and amplify the impact of existing pro-poor initiatives, even if they can also make contributions in their own right
  • technical and tick-box approaches to CSR that fail to recognise conflict, inequality between stakeholders, and fundamental differences of interest are unlikely to make a meaningful contribution to development.