Characteristics and Implications of Asian Responsible Enterprise

The growth of Asian companies and initiatives using the terminology of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to describe the social and environmental performance and effectiveness of their business, has encouraged discussion of what ‘CSR’ in Asia is like, most often in contrast to the West. Conversations often focus on assessing the level of CSR across an economy51, and what similarities there are in CSR activities in Asia which contrast with that practised in the West.52 Typically, some express the view that CSR is less developed than in the West, whereas others argue there is an implicit form of CSR amongst many Asian enterprises, that needs to be codified and communicated. The assumption at work in many of these conversations is that Asia is following the West: either by ‘catching up’ with Western CSR practices, or in codifying and communicating its own indigenous approaches to socially and environmentally effective enterprise in ways that can be reported to Western companies, NGOs, investors and consumers53. This is a natural response to how Western firms have increasingly been requesting compliance from their suppliers, subsidiaries and business partners in Asia to non-statutory codes on social or environmental performance: CSR performance is regarded as a means of remaining competitive in international markets. However, such a view ignores that beneath the acronym, CSR is the matter of how business and society relate, which is as local as it is international. It also overlooks the rapid changes within Asia, such as the growth in the middle class, environmental awareness, and new media, and the depletion of natural resources, that are creating new risks and opportunities for businesses. As you have read this far, let alone the rest of this review of 2008, we hope you can set aside the assumption of East following West. In which case, what might be a reason for reflecting on the similarities in Asian forms of responsible enterprise that are distinctive to the West?

  • To inspire. Inspiration for people in Asia and across the world can arise through revealing the diverse approaches to social advancement from across Asia.
  • To interrogate. Critical assessment of whether certain Asian approaches to responsible enterprise are a by-product of social imbalances, or arise from positive social values.
  • To inform. Critical reflection on whether certain approaches promoted as globally responsible are actually appropriate is important in a global economy with a growing network of standards and codes.
  • To influence. Assessment of where the power exists in business and society in Asia, and what factors shape the social and environmental effectiveness of enterprise is important to understand how to influence performance in the future.

In future consideration of the characteristics of Asian responsible enterprise, each possible characteristic should be interrogated, to then inspire and inform globally, but ultimately, to seek to influence. At the same time, “being the cradle of great civilisations Asia is anything but monolithic,” and so all generalisations should be held lightly.54 With this in mind our tentative hypothesis is in comparison to the West, contemporary Asian responsible enterprise is: familial, governmental, practical, informal, religious, and non-global. We briefly discuss each characteristic.

» Familial

(The references are available in the pdf download and hard copy versions of this annual review, available from Lifeworth’s bookstore.)

This section can be referenced as:

Bendell, J., and C Ng, ‘Introduction’, in J. Bendell, N. Alam, S. Lin, C. Ng, L. Rimando, C. Veuthey, B. Wettstein (2009) The Eastern Turn in Responsible Enterprise: A Yearly Review of Corporate Responsibility from Lifeworth, Lifeworth: Manila, Philippines. (Page numbers for this section are available in the pdf download and hardcopy.)

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