THE LIFEWORTH REVIEW OF 2008

Talking Turns

Dr Jem Bendell,
Adjunct Associate Professor, Griffith Business School, Australia
Chew Ng,
Professor of Accounting, Griffith Business School, Australia

An important shift in power in the past years, now hastened by the economic crisis that began in 2008, has been away from the Western world, towards the rest of the world, including the East. That shift compounds a turning towards the East that is evident in how business impacts on society, and vice versa.  “Responsible enterprise” is commercial activity that voluntarily considers its social and environmental effects. 2 The relationship between business and society is ubiquitous in relevance around the world, and so we may surmise that the ‘Eastern Turn’ in world power will be reflected in responsible enterprise issues, initiatives, and analysis.

Investigating this ‘Eastern Turn’ in responsible enterprise, we feel like the poet WB Yeats, who described the essence of Asia as its “vague immensities”. We are, after all, speaking of a region with majority of our world’s people. However we think it an important shift to chronicle, and to encourage debate about, as we believe it has implications for how we achieve a fair and sustainable world through more conscious approaches to enterprise and finance. We aim to describe some aspects of this Eastern Turn, and some implications that are beginning to appear for business, civil society and government from different directions of the compass. In doing so we intend to stimulate debate about the future of sustainable and responsible enterprise in a multi polar world.

By speaking of ‘East’ we are describing the Middle East, Asia and the Asia-Pacific region (not yet including Australia and New Zealand, due to the dominance of ‘Western culture’ in their recent history). In this introduction we briefly describe the global power shift to Asia and the importance of the region for global sustainable development and, therefore, global responsible enterprise. We note a historical Western dominance in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), before discussing the rise of responsible enterprise challenges within Asia, due to domestic changes, and in the world that involve Asian firms and investors. In doing so we refer to events during 2008 that highlight these challenges. Then we focus in more detail on the rise of responsible enterprise practices and initiatives within Asia. We describe how Asia has become the leader in environmental management systems and sustainability reporting. Next, we examine the extent to which business studies has analysed related issues, and find that there has been a rise in academic attention to Asia in journals dealing with aspects of responsible enterprise and finance. We then reflect on the nature of corporate responsibility issues and initiatives in different parts of Asia, and the extent to which an Asian agenda is emerging, could emerge, and what the implications could be for how that process occurs.

Our main conclusion is that diverse Asian approaches to responsible enterprise will increasingly affect business practices around the globe. We argue that not only can this development be welcomed, but it is essential to achieve a fair and sustainable world, and now is an important moment for people interested in business-society relations to engage in elaborating greater understanding about Asian approaches to responsible enterprise and finance. We call for further democratising the way the Asian responsible enterprise community of practitioners, policy makers and experts are developing their own agendas, and warn of some of the cultural challenges for professionals in both the East and West. We conclude by returning to the fundamental reflections about economic systems that the financial crisis is provoking, and suggest that key Eastern liberation leaders could offer us some insight into forms of political-economic system fit for a fair and sustainable world, as well as the way to bring them into being.

»  The Power Shift

(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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