The role of government is important in shaping responsible enterprise in Asia.58 Unlike the West, in many Asian countries the government is traditionally expected to lead on matters of national development. The importance of government in shaping responsible enterprise practice is highlighted by the difference in environmental management performance between Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Of the Japanese companies they assessed in Japan, 80% were considered by EIRIS as having either an advance or good management response to environmental issues, better than for Europe, North America and Australasia. That compared to well below 10% in Hong Kong and Singapore. The head of research at EIRIS, Stephen Hine, explained that “the Japanese government has long encouraged as well as regulated companies to adopt environmental management systems such as ISO 14000 whereas in HK and Singapore this has not traditionally been the case.”59
After the economic crisis of 2008, state owned enterprises and sovereign wealth funds have grown in significance both within Asia and abroad. The efficiency and accountability of state-owned enterprises when compared to private companies has sometimes been challenged.60 Yet the potential is there, for governments to exert novel forms of influence on business practices if they wish to use that influence. In 2008 the Chinese government announced that corporate responsibility reports would be mandatory for all state-owned enterprises – half of all such reports issued in China that year were from state-owned enterprises.61
The growing role of government as an industry owner and investor poses a challenge for how they can be an active and responsible owners and investors without creating political controversies due to being seen as pursuing national interests through their international firms and investments (see Sovereign wealth fund responsibility).
A more significant implication of this role for government is the intellectual scope it may provide for more systemic interventions in markets, including the basics of business incorporation and money-creation (see From bailouts to better capitalism, and The end of financial triumphalism). In a new book by one of the current authors, The Corporate Responsibility Movement, it is argued that an interlocking framework of ideas for how to redesign economic actors and systems is emerging: “Capital democracy describes an economic system that moves towards the creation, allocation and management of capital according to the interests of everyone directly affected by that process, in order to support the self-actualisation of all’.62 It is an agenda that requires government action to realise; perhaps this is more likely for some governments within Asia, given wider acceptance of their role in intervening in markets when compared to the West.
(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.)