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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The New Corporate Accountability - CSR and the Law

The New Corporate Accountability:
Corporate Social Responsibility and the Law 

Edited by Doreen McBarnet, Aurora Voiculescu and Tom Campbell

Published by Cambridge, 2009 (paperback) ISBN 978-0-521-14209-0

This review first appeared on on 25th August 2010.


The adoption by companies of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies is routinely characterized as voluntary. But if CSR is self-governance by business, it is self-governance that has received a firm push from external social and market forces, from forces of social accountability. Law is also playing a more significant role than the image of CSR suggests, and this legal accountability - the focus of the book - is set to increase. Legal intervention should not, however, be seen as making social accountability redundant. Wider ethical standards and social and market forces are also necessary to make legal regulation effective. Law is being brought into play in innovative and indirect ways. The initiative lies as much with private organizations as with the state. At the same time governments are using social and market forces to foster CSR. In the context of corporate social responsibility, a new, multi-faceted, corporate accountability is emerging. The book is unique in making the relationship between law and CSR its chief focus.


Yes, it's true that we think of CSR as something which is "beyond compliance" and totally at the discretion of enlightened business leaders who may choose, or not, to drive forward on the CSR path. Almost all common definitions of CSR squarely place this business approach in the voluntary camp. With contributions from 23 accomplished scholars, including the three editing contributors, this exceptional book of over 550 very full pages, opens our eyes to the delicate interplay of business, social accountability and the law, and makes the point that it's just a little more complex than a free choice by business leaders to make the world better. Moreover, it sets the scene for even greater regulation and legal convergence with CSR-type issues, and should serve to convince business leaders that it's better to be ahead of the game, rather than wait until the game is nearly over.

The book makes the distinction between four core concepts: CSR beyond the law, the familiar new corporate accountability of both observing the law and doing more than is required by law; CSR against the law, as in the old Friedmanite arguments of CSR being counter to meeting primary responsibilities towards shareholders; CSR through law, and the role the law can play in supporting the enforcement of apparently voluntary CSR policies, and the way CSR can influence broader legislative structure through dialogue, lobbying and negotiation, and CSR for law, and the way a CSR approach might lead corporations to support implementing relevant legislation as it exists in a more effective way and, rather than simply accepting compliance as a minimum, embracing the spirit as well as the letter of the law, enhancing the effectiveness of legal frameworks. The conclusion: "What is emerging in the arena of CSR is a complex interaction between government, business and civil society, private law, state regulation and self-regulation, at national and international levels, with social, legal, ethical and market pressure all being brought to bear in ways that cut across traditional pigeon holes...and which interrelate with and foster each other."

This last sentence should indicate to you that this book is not for the faint-hearted. The concepts are cleverly presented, superbly articulated, fascinating in scope, and well worth the investing the effort to study. But study you will. And it will take you some time, too. This is an intensive book, presenting complex arguments with just a strong enough hint of legalese to deter those who prefer an easier ride. But if you have the interest, staying power and desire to learn, this book is a masterpiece. And it's certainly not only for lawyers. Any curious and interested business person would benefit from the insights presented in this book which is immensely readable, even for those who know little of legal and regulatory affairs.

When most of us non-lawyers think of the law, we tend to picture one amorphous mass of legal provisions, lawyers, courts, judges and regulations. This book shows the law in all its dimensions and how these different dimensions have diverse implications for CSR. Take for instance, private law, or the imposition of CSR standards on one business entity by another, through mechanisms such as contract. In a chapter by Doreen McBarnet and Marina Kurkchiyan exploring the supply chain as an area of reputational (and insurance) risk, we can understand that the "risk-based approach to supplier engagement that has dictated that much of the CSR 'law' is conducted in the private arena, in the supply chain agreements between companies which often exceed legal provisions in a given country". The authors say that "contractual control will evolve as companies compete on ethical branding" and wish to avoid reputational damage that may emerge through their supply chains. We are certainly seeing greater requirements of large corporations to incorporate social and environmental provisions in procurement contracts, the apparel industry being one of the most prominent, though enforcement still requires greater focus. Indeed, a further chapter by Carole Glinski goes on to examine whether codes of conduct are a moral or a legal obligation, especially for transnationals operating in several countries, or with regard to human rights implications of corporate activities in developing countries.

Another chapter talks to the role of the Board of Governors, and the degree to which the Board has a free choice in the way it directs the firm, and to what extent the "contemporary structure of the board and legal doctrines create disincentives for the Board even to protect shareholders, let alone anybody else". Other chapters look at the role of the World Trade Organization and its role in defining trade measures and their impact on society, or the way in which the "new corporate law" protects employees' interests, or how NGO activity influences regulation, or the human rights aspects of corporations and the law, the significance of complicity, the Alien Tort Claims Act and how it is applied ( remember Royal Dutch Shell's $15.5 million payout to the Ogoni people in Nigeria? ), shareholder activism and much more. Another core concept is that of meta-regulation - "the proliferation of different forms of regulation, each regulating one another" - Christine Parker makes the argument for this emerging phenomenon and the extent to which regulation can drive process (i.e. regulating companies to have adequate CSR process) rather than prescribing activities or specifying targets. Meta-regulation thus becomes an "approach to legal regulation in which internal corporate conscience is externally regulated". And, I have merely skimmed the surface of other fascinating CSR law-related topics presented in this rich book.

All in all, the New Corporate Accountability serves to clarify many aspects of the way CSR interacts with law, and ultimately, proves the point that, if so far we have thought of CSR as a completely voluntary opt-in exercise at the full discretion of the CEO, the intricate fabric of relationships and pressures from different shareholder corners, as well as legislators, means that CSR may not just be such a free choice after all!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Friday, August 13, 2010

The World Guide to CSR

The World Guide to CSR A country by country Analysis of Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility

Edited by Wayne Visser and Nick Tolhurst

Published by Greenleaf Publishing , 2010, ISBN 978-1-906093-38-9

This review first appeared on on 13th August 2010


The World Guide to CSR is the first book to provide comparable national profiles that describe the evolution and practice of Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility (CSR) for 58 countries and 5 global regions. Each regional and national profile includes key information about the relevant CSR history, country-specific issues, trends, research and leading organizations. The purpose of the book is to give CSR professionals (including managers, consultants, academics and NGOs focusing on the social, environmental and ethical responsibilities of business) a quick reference guide to CSR in different regional and national contexts. The book introduction can be downloaded here.


Planning your vacation to Finland? You might like to know that Fortum, Kesko, Neste Oil and Nokia are leading-light corporates practicing CSR in that country. Want to keep up with the CSR news whilst travelling in Austria? The Glocalist offers a daily online newspaper, weekly digital magazine and monthly print magazine. Taking a business trip to Tanzania? You might find it worth consideration that Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and faces a mature, generalized HIV pandemic. The mining sector leads CSR in Tanzania. Want to study CSR in Saudi Arabia? King Saud University will be happy to accommodate you. Looking to set up a CSR consulting practice in Sierra Leone? CSR there is "far from being institutionalized" so you might have a good chance of pioneering the field. Hard of hearing and looking for a CSR job in the Philippines ? Lamoiyan Corporation is a faith-based CSR business focused on providing equal employment opportunities for the hearing impaired. Looking for a milk supplier in Pakistan? Try The Dairy Project. This is the fifth largest producer of milk in the world, with 1,066 trained rural women (as at end 2008) in 594 villages trained as lady livestock workers. The point is that wherever you are in the world, the World Guide to CSR will prime you on what is most important to know about CSR. 58 countries are profiled in detailed analyses which contain a contextual country background, priority issues, trends, legislation and codes, organizations promoting CSR, key company case studies and educational establishments and programs. The book is headed up by 5 regional profiles of Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East which draw out the regional key themes according to the same structure used for the local profiles. What more could you want?

The impressive list of contributors to this volume, 87 in all, are the crème de la crème of CSR knowledge and include leading academics, business people and practitioners from all over the global village. The country profiles are of a exceedingly high quality, offering a local flavor and sometimes even a little local language (tzedakah, the Hebrew word for charity; "sanpo yoshi" – "three-way good" in Japan; choregia, the ancient form of sponsorship in Greece; "ubuntu" in Southern Africa, which relates to community culture, to name but a few examples). The profiles are superbly edited to give consistency of scope and depth, country by country.

Why is this book useful? It serves as a start-point for any study of CSR anywhere in the world, as each profile contains an impressive list of links and references. It is a learning aid because the local case studies provide outlines of the key CSR activities by key corporates - the leading edge of CSR around the world. It serves as a guide for those wanting to develop their own CSR programs. If, for example, you are an SME in Mauritius, a tiny island of 1,865m2 in the Indian Ocean, you have three web-links which can direct you to CSR-advancing organizations, five corporations who you can observe practicing CSR and a summary of the key trends which will inspire you to add your name to the 87% of SME's engaged in philanthropic activities in that country.

Nick Tolhurst, co-editor, says the World Guide to CSR provides a "timely and intriguing glimpse across the richness of global business cultures" and this it does. But don't look to this guide to provide you with a league table or global benchmark of CSR business practices around the world. There are no indicators of CSR practices that might be directly comparable country by country – percentage of GDP which is generated by CSR-aligned businesses, number of companies reporting on CSR, opinion surveys or sector leadership comparisons, for example – and no analysis of global trends drawn from the individual profiles. However, the wealth of information this book contains is quite astonishing. I think it should be sold together with Lonely Planet and Fodor travel guides, and prior reading should be a condition of obtaining an entry visa to any of the 58 profiled countries!

Wayne Visser, co-editor and prolific CSR teacher, thought-leader and writer, penned the forward for this book, saying that we are at a "crucial juncture in the evolution of CSR" . This book serves to shed light on how that juncture is manifested around the world, and perhaps, to indicate that we have critical mass which may just be the tipping point we need to elevate CSR to the level of compelling business strategy and practice world-wide.

The only thing missing in this book? A list of socially responsible ice-cream parlors in each country.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Innovative CSR

Innovative CSR : From Risk Management to Value Creation

Edited by Céline Louche, Samuel O. Idowu and Walter Leal Filho

Published by Greenleaf Publishing , May 2010, ISBN 978-1-906093-35-8

This review first appeared on on 4th August 2010


This book aims to explore, inspire and support creative, innovative and strategic CSR. ‘Innovation’ in this book means new products, services and technologies and, in addition, new organisational and institutional systems, structures and new business models that empower the organisation to advance strategically in an ever more competitive business world. With contributions from a crème de la crème of scholars from 12 countries, Innovative CSR gathers together a cornucopia of innovative practices that will be essential reading for academics and practitioners alike. The book introduction can be downloaded here.


Insights abound in this packed volume of academic papers from scholars in 12 different countries around the world and how they perceive the modern practice of CSR and, in particular, the ways in which CSR can be leveraged to create strategic value for businesses. It is rare to find an academic textbook that is utterly riveting, highly readable and well-structured, providing a wide range of case studies and commentaries on the practical aspects of CSR in a multitude of companies and organizations. This book does it superbly. Each paper is a gem. Each paper builds effectively around the central theme of strategic CSR innovation, exploring different dimensions of innovative and strategic practice on the part of corporate entities around the globe, offering new ways of thinking about the ways in which CSR is, and sometimes isn't, leveraged to deliver creative, strategic, triple bottom line value for businesses, society and environment.

Part I, "CSR and competitive advantage", encompasses six chapters, each addressing the strategic dimensions of CSR. Highlights include a paper proposing a framework for creating a dynamic link between CSR and strategy, offering a new way of analyzing materiality, with case studies demonstrating the application of this framework at Aveda Corporation, Herman Miller and Toyota. The paper concludes that firms must focus CSR efforts in three areas – market based, regulatory/standards based and operational based actions – in a context specific way in order to create value-adding strategies for CSR. Another paper offers astute insights into the reasons Companies settle for convergent (me-too) CSR instead of divergent (innovative) CSR – I refer to this in a blog post on the CSR Reporting blog. You can also read a fascinating account of an Italian company, Beghelli SpA, the Italian market leader in emergency lighting systems, who has diversified its business along sustainability principles and reaped significant business benefit. This study of Beghelli is based on 5 strategic variables proposed back in 1996 by Burke and Lodgson, quite an interesting model, and in the case shown, serves to support the importance of leveraging firm-specific resources for strategic CSR initiatives.

Part II, "CSR and value creation", examines the ways CSR can create value for a firm, its stakeholders and society. My favorite piece in this section is about corporate social responsibility as a brand building tool which offers another framework proposed by Simmons and Becker-Olsen in 2006 which establishes 4 key components of an effective strategic CSR program: clear motivation, appropriate initiative, right timing and right communication. The study cites both appropriate initiatives which add value, such as the company Gas Natural which established a relationship with the Barcelona city government to power the city's bus fleet with more environmentally-friendly natural gas, and less appropriate initiatives, such as Pepsi's support for a new highway construction in Mexico City, in which Pepsi's logo appeared on police booths along the new highway, thereby creating a negative association, confusing to consumers between the brand and the police force. A key conclusion of this paper is that strategic fit influences purchasing decisions, something many companies would be advised to note. "Programs that do not strategically fit with the business or are perceived as reactionary can lead to brand equity dilution".

Part III, "CSR and Innovation", focuses on the innovative aspects of CSR. This section is headed up with a fascinating study of 129 global innovative solutions and an analysis of these using a 4-point innovation scale developed by Mark Kramer and the Skoll Foundation in 2005 in order to evaluate the innovative aspects of CSR solutions against 13 different dimensions. A key finding is that Companies tend to develop solutions that adapt existing systems rather than change the systems – only 7% of initiatives studied can be regarded as "really" innovative. Other papers in this section include a very interesting sustainable innovation model for SME's and an analysis of the value that consultants contribute to CSR innovation.

All in all, despite the academic nature of this book, the sometimes rather tedious descriptions of methodologies applied, and the often repetitive introductory sections to each of the different papers penned by different academics, this book is a delight. The deep-dive into core CSR concepts provide original ways of thinking about how companies have and can make CSR a business-builder rather than a series of bolt-on projects. An essential understanding of what is strategic and what is innovative in CSR terms is a prerequisite, I suggest, for any company engaging in CSR practices. This book is a must-read for anyone considering these themes.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
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