Reframing Corporate Social Responsibility: Lessons from the Global Financial Crisis
Editor(s): William Sun, Jim Stewart and David Pollard
In the aftermath of the global financial crisis (GFC), much commentary has been dedicated to the spectacular failures of neo-liberal economics, the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ capitalist system and corporate governance, to the exclusion of CSR. In its analysis of the causes and fallout of the greatest financial and economic disaster since the Great Depression from a CSR perspective, this book takes a novel and interesting approach.
Reframing Corporate Social Responsibility concentrates on the following themes: (1) the role played by CSR in the GFC and its underlying thesis, (2) institutionalising CSR in codified rules and the application of CSR into business management and (3) the future direction of post-GFC CSR. It is important to highlight that no contributor considers that CSR alone caused the GFC. Rather, they contend that corporate social irresponsibility contributed to it, at least in part. To this end, the book has an insightful and vivid illustration by Wayne Visser about how executive greed, banking greed, financial market greed, corporate greed and capitalist greed had together acted like a cancer in the body which ended up destroying the health of its host society.
A standout feature of this book is Brian Jones’ contribution, which argues that the move from the post-war tri-partite based consensus politics to the new right neo-liberal conviction politics led to the loss of public scrutiny and accountability, ushering in increasing levels of irresponsibility in the US and UK. What is clever about Jones’ contribution is the way in which he knits the CSR debate to the emerging debate on the incarnation of neo-liberalism post-GFC.
Another feature of this book was the consideration of the application of CSR in practice and the concrete measures, and engaged models merged with business and management. Too often, CSR is condemned to exist in theory and not in practice. This book capitalises on the prevailing preoccupation with corporate governance and highlights the intrinsic link between CSR and governance in various jurisdictions. While the contributions by Robert J. Rhee and Tineke Lambooy regarding the corporate governance regulatory models in the US and Holland respectively are most insightful, it is a shame that an analysis of the regulatory model from one of the Nordic countries – where CSR is considered to be truly embedded – was not included.
Helpfully, this body of work avoids traditional paralysis by analysis and ends on an optimistic note with proposals for re-directing CSR as a post-GFC agenda, while indicating how embedded CSR might emerge in the future.
Presenting a comprehensive body of work, which boldly questions how and why CSR failed to stave off the GFC – something which will surely be seized upon by CSR critics and opponents – while considering how existing conceptualisations of CSR and/or its frameworks can be reframed in order to prevent future crises, was never going to be an easy feat given the abundance of existing CSR literature and scholarly thought. However, the editors of this collection of essays have risen to the challenge by including highly relevant, concise and well-written contributions by leading scholars from various disciplines.
Perhaps it is its multi-disciplinary approach that will ensure the wide and long-term appeal of this publication while academics, legislators, policy makers, practitioners and others debate the place of CSR in the post-GFC governing agenda. However, it is worth highlighting that this book does not always use language that is accessible to the common man and it also presupposes a certain level of knowledge of the key tenets of CSR and to some extent, corporate governance.
Overall, the editors have succeeded in achieving their objective of igniting interest in this research direction and challenging conventional modes of thinking and inspiring further discussion. While the layout and division of themes in this book facilitated this, it is truly the multi-disciplinary approach that worked best, enabling readers from various disciplines and backgrounds to focus on the contributions that appeal the most.
Katie O’Dea Cadden, CSR International