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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach

Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach
By Mark S. Schwartz

Published by Broadview Press.

ISBN: 978-1-55111-294-7

This review was first published on on 25th July 2011


Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach. The term corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often used in the boardroom, classroom and political platform, but what does it really mean? Do corporations have ethical or philanthropic duties beyond their obligations to comply with the law? How does CSR relate to business ethics, stakeholder management, sustainability and corporate citizenship? Mark Schwartz provides a concise, cutting-edge introduction to the topic, analyzing many case studies with the help of his innovative "Three Domain Approach" to CSR. Corporate Social Responsibility also provides a chronology of landmark contributions to the concept of CSR and includes CSR resources on organizations, global codes and criteria, corporate CSR reports, and websites and blogs.


Corporate Social Responsibility, for some of us, may have become a regular part of our approach to business, but the concept is still one that invokes debate about its real meaning, boundaries and scope. Even though we think we are clear about the underlying ethical foundations of CSR, sometimes a book comes along which raises questions that reinforce the fact there is no one right answer, no mathematical formula for ethics and no option but to go back to basics and rethink our underlying assumptions and values. CSR, at its root, is driven by ethical considerations as much as by strategic business thinking. Ethics may mean different things to different people but the need to recognize an ethical question and develop an approach to address it intelligently is common to all of us in business and, indeed, life. This is the contribution of Mark Schwartz' book, Corporate Social Responsibility: An Ethical Approach. Mark takes us back to first base and gives us a thorough grounding in the different aspects of the ethics debate, which should be part of the toolkit for all students of business ethics or managers of ethical businesses.

Mark Schwartz defines seven "moral standards" that can be used to analyze and guide the moral behavior of firms: Core Ethical Values, including trustworthiness, caring, responsibility and citizenship; Relativism; Egoism; Utilitarianism; Kantianism; Moral Rights; and, Justice/Fairness. If you don't know what differentiates each one of these, well, neither did I, so Mark's thorough explanation of each one was enlightening.

The heart of the book, however, is a grand debate between Milton Friedman and The Body Shop positions on a range of CSR-related case studies. Friedman and The Body Shop represent the extreme ends of the spectrum of business behavior and the conflict between profit and purpose. After a detailed analysis of both approaches, the author uses a set of case studies as the backdrop of an examination of the possible responses according to Friedman or The Body Shop. For example, how would Friedman have responded in the Ford Pinto case in which a design defect was potentially life threatening but a recall expensive? Would Friedman have advised pursuing profits and continuing sales without disclosure of the defect because the assessment was that even if an issue arose, it would be less costly to the company than the profit generated by maintaining sales? On the other hand, how would Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, have responded in the Ford Pinto case? Is there any doubt at all The Body Shop would have recalled all cars known to be faulty? (Ford went the Friedman route and it wasn’t until 27 people had died and some years after the issue arose internally that a recall became unavoidable.)

Similar treatment is afforded to other cases studies on the Union Carbide Bhopal disaster, the Johnson and Johnson Tylenol contamination and the river blindness story and Merck, the pharmaceutical company. None of these cases are new to most of us, I suspect, but Mark Schwartz' treatment of them is fascinating and even somewhat entertaining.

Finally, Schwartz closes with his proposal for a new analytical tool for understanding the behavior of corporations. He calls this the Three Domain Model and it has three core parts: economic, legal and ethical (not people, profit and planet). This model is influenced strongly by Archie Carroll's Pyramid of CSR, but modified by Schwartz (for example, it excludes philanthropy, which, in the author's view, does not constitute a responsibility but more a discretionary activity). This is an interesting approach that could help students of CSR and managers in business understand and even guide motivations for decision making and the impacts of decisions on society and the environment.

Designed for use in the study of ethics and CSR rather than as a general interest book on ethics, Mark Schwartz provides an informative, creative and comprehensive discussion of business ethics from both a theoretical and practical standpoint. Oh, and if you don't know your Kantianism from your Utilitarianism, go read this book!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

Monday, July 25, 2011

Responsible Management in Asia

Responsible Management in Asia: Perspectives on CSR

Edited by Geoffrey Williams

Published by Macmillan Publishers Limited.

ISBN: 978-0-230-25241-7

This review was first published on on 25th July 2011


Responsible Management in Asia: Perspectives on CSR covers the history and development of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Asia and how it has helped to create pathways to social and environmental sustainability across the region. Drawing on case studies from Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere, leading specialists describe the emergence of CSR from philanthropy and charity to a uniquely Asian form of responsible management. Community-based partnerships between business and civil society are discussed from a practical, Asian perspective. Decent work programmes through social partnerships and concrete action programmes at the factory level offer new insights into workplace management.


Whether CSR is the same world-over or differs substantially from country to country and culture to culture is an important question and one which I have often pondered. It seems to me that basic universal true-north values are pretty much the same anywhere, but ethical standards definitely differ based on local cultural norms, and socio-economic and business circumstances in a particular country (and at a particular time) may dictate a set of material issues which provide quite a unique setting for the advancement of CSR. So it was with relish that I started reading a compilation of perspectives of CSR in Asia, edited by Geoffrey Williams, a senior figure in the CSR world in Asian circles.

The book did not disappoint. Whilst it may not be an exhaustive account of CSR in such a wide range of countries that make up the Asian continent, it certainly offers often fascinating perspectives on a wide range of issues including human rights, public policy approaches, social partnerships, responsible tourism, green building, socially responsible investment and sustainability reporting from an Asian standpoint. To what extent must CSR strategy be guided by a local setting? This was the question in my mind when I turned to Geoffrey Williams' introduction to this book, which refers to "a strong emergence of a separate Asian dimension to CSR, with several key drivers which differ from those in the West."

The compilation includes works from a range of credible and experienced authors from business, not-for profit and academic sectors, each providing insights or research-based knowledge on one or other aspects of CSR in one or other Asian country. The book is peppered with case studies from local businesses, many of which, not knowing the Asian market well, I had never heard of before, which is refreshing. (Most CSR books lead with case studies from the large MNE's that we all know and with stories that we have almost always already heard.)

Some of the highlights for me included:

A deep-dive into CSR practices in Bangladesh which concludes that CSR is played out primarily in the form of discretionary responsibilities, not deriving from legal or ethical pressures, but voluntary contributions to social causes such as health, education, female empowerment, disability etc. In other words, CSR has not reached the level of core business strategy but remains as separate social projects in the communities in which businesses operate, despite the fact that "many business organizations in Bangladesh are not conducting their business in a socially responsible way."

The role of civil society in Asia offers several interesting NGO stories such as Magic Bus in India and its "sport for development program for children; Dasra, India, a catalyst for social change ; Kehati Biodiversity Foundation in Indonesia; Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation in the Philippines and Tenaganita in Malaysia, operating to support human and migrant rights. The sense is that the time is right for the rapid advance of NGO influence in Asian countries.

The development of the Factory Improvement Program and ILO training in Vietnam which has led to over 50% of factories undergoing major changes in their operation and over 20% going through transformative change. However, the call for greater regulation to advance change in a more broadscale way is still needed.

The case of Hero supermarket in Indonesia which used CSR-related themes to resolve a labor dispute in a collective bargaining approach with the local union. Real economic business issues were resolved resulting in a win-win for all.

A good overview of the issues for responsible tourism, in particular child prostitution and gender equality within the industry. A real opportunity for businesses in Asia to add real social value through ethical practices and capitalize on a growing industry.

An interesting overview of climate change risk implications discussing green energy development and strategies for Asian companies, summarizing the diverse targets set by 10 Asian countries and the implications of effective carbon management over the next 15 years.

A study of Asian financial institutions' approach to green building based on qualitative research among 8 members of the Banking Association of Hong Kong. The research shows that all participating institutions have a strong commitment to CSR and see CSR as integral to doing business.

Finally, in answer to my question: "To what extent must CSR strategy be guided by a local setting?"; Geoffrey Williams pulls it all together, concluding that "CSR in Asia is not the same as it is in the West." A key recommendation by the author is that Western companies cannot use a "one-size-fits-all" approach to CSR base on Western premises and that companies should engage more deeply to understand their new Asian stakeholders. Responsible Management in Asia serves to highlight some of those areas in which differences may be found that might inform Western companies expanding into Asia. The book does not provide a checklist of "How to do CSR in Asia" but certainly provides some enlightening insights. Next time in am in China, Malaysia or Bangladesh or the Philippines, I will certainly feel more informed.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website
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