The Ethical Anchoring of Corporate Social Responsibility

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In this essay two specific questions are dealt with: one, How robust are the critiques against corporate social responsibility (CSR)? and the other, Which ethical anchoring is capable of offering more solid support for CSR? I will not deal with the history of CSR, a rather recent history all told that usually begins with the pioneering contribution of Bowen in 1953, which contains an early definition of CSR (Chirielieson 2004); nor will I comment on the reasons for which, with the development of globalization beginning at the end of the 1970s, the problematic nature of CSR has exploded onto the scene (Zamagni 2003). Nor will I confront, finally, the contents of corporate social responsibility, what is understood by CSR and the ways of implementing it at the level of firm praxis (Sacconi 2004).

I would like to observe that, notwithstanding the plethora of studies and debates that have taken place over the course of the last quarter century, there still exists no commonly accepted definition of CSR. We are still in the phase of the “privatization” of the definitions, which is at the origin of many interpretative problems and grave miscomprehensions that cause quite often bitter and useless polemics. The fact is that a definition makes sense only if it becomes the common property of a scientific community, since the nature of a definition in a particular field of knowledge is that of a public good. Indeed, the idea of a private definition is an oxymoron.

It should not be surprising if, among experts in the economic disciplines, but not only, the fin de non recevoir still dominates regarding the themes of CSR – it is a fact that the theoretical economic literature, for example, is all but mute about the causal reasons and effects of CSR – and the critiques of the very idea of CSR, not to mention its actual application, are frequent. After more than a century of pronouncements on the thesis of axiological neutrality of economic science, i.e., of the affirmation according to which there exists a sphere of social relations taking place in the market that don't need to be subjected to any external ethical judgment, what I have just suggested comes as no surprise.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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  • Interdisciplinary Yearbook of Business Ethics
    This volume comprises the work of twenty scholars and practitioners from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Contributors represent a diversity of fields including organizational science, economics, systems theory, personality psychology, business ethics, finance, management, philosophy, political science, sociology, and ecology. All the papers stand for a more human and ethical approach to economics and business.
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