Movement East?

Simon Zadek of AccountAbility: challenged conference delegates to engage with emerging economies

Simon Zadek of AccountAbility: challenged conference delegates to engage with emerging economies

At the same Net Impact conference, Simon Zadek of AccountAbility encouraged younger delegates to think about why they were interested in the conference. Perhaps in the future being a CSR manager in a company such as Motorola could be an important role to play; or perhaps not, he mused. He challenged delegates to consider what the challenges of tomorrow’s world will be, rather than focusing on what has emerged over the last decade. The emerging corporations on the world stage are from Brazil, India, China and Russia, he explained, and engaging them is key.

This view is shared by other Western practitioners, such as Jane Nelson,38 with Harvard University, who has emphasised that India and China need to embrace corporate responsibility or other efforts are futile. Policy Advisor Eddie Rich,39 of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, agrees that the influence of companies from these countries is key to the effort against corruption worldwide. It was promising, therefore, that the IBM study of CEOs found that Asian respondents were placing higher importance on their social responsibilities than those from other regions.

As a contribution to the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education working group on Research Priorities, in April 2008 Lifeworth conducted a survey of the 4,000 subscribers to its bulletin on CSR about their view of the future of research needs on responsible business. Respondents considered that the most important regions for future CSR research are in Asia. Other regions with emerging nations were also ranked highly, as shown in Figure 7 (available in pdf download and hardcopy versions only, from Lifeworth’s bookstore).40

Jane Nelson: India and China need to embrace corporate responsibility or other efforts are futile

Jane Nelson: India and China need to embrace corporate responsibility or other efforts are futile

Dr. Zadek wondered out loud whether it would be the Chinese oil firm Sinopec, rather than Shell, that would have more influence on sustainable development in years to come, for good or ill, and whether Net Impact delegates would seek jobs in the more challenging companies and environments in order to maximise their influence. ‘What’s your appetite?’ That question encourages us to reflect on whether corporate responsibility is emerging as a profession or social movement, or both. If processes of professionalisation dominate, with codes and qualifications determining what is considered appropriate, will that help or hinder the transformative potential of people working in this space? Many of those people speak of being part of a movement: a search for ‘corporate social responsibility movement’ delivers 13,700 hits on Google.41 If it is a social movement, what are the implications for priorities of work, and of research?

The field of social movement studies is large, and draws on experiences as diverse as the civil rights movement, the feminist movement and the environmental movement. The basic insights of these historical experiences and analyses are that people in a movement benefit from developing an understanding of common values and goals. They benefit from a sense of shared identity, from knowledge of the repertoires of action that movement participants use, and the elites that they engage with. They consider methods of entryism into those elites and the dangers of co-optation, because they recognise the role of power in both shaping the problems they seek to overcome and the opportunities for change. Consequently, they discuss strategies for influencing the political opportunities they can seize, and choose terminology on the basis of its potential to mobilise people and create deeper change. People participating in movements often recognise particular convening processes, networks and organisations as key to the movement’s success and evolution. In light of this context of the history of social movements, the corporate responsibility movement, if there is such a thing, still has some way to progress. The limited evidence of gender consciousness and solidarity among women working in corporate responsibility, discussed above, may be a symptom of a movement that does not yet know itself. Whether the outcome of networks such as Net Impact will be the socialising of business, rather than merely the business of socialising, is yet to be seen. The potential for a movement to emerge and have a historic impact on society is explored in more detail by the lead author of this review in The Corporate Responsibility Movement.42

» Hungry bubbles

(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 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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