Trump, Anti-Intellectualism and the New Role for Business

By Erin Leitheiser.

For anyone who pays even vague attention to the news it is clear that this year’s U.S. election is not only continuous, but perhaps exemplifies the growing divide between truth (facts) and lies (fabrications).  Politicians have a long track record of twisting and distorting facts to support their position, but Donald Trump has taken this to a new level.  In just the past week he blatantly misrepresented academic findings about voter fraud, continued to promote a debunked rumor about $6 billion in missing funds from the State Department under Clinton, and has sworn to question the results of the election if he doesn’t win.  Herein we see a dangerous disregard (at best) or rejection (at worst) of the truth.

Notions of Trust are Changing

Trump may indeed personify the growing divide between who and what information is trusted by the general public.  Every year the PR firm Edelman publishes their annual Trust Barometer, a worldwide study which, among other things, tracks the credibility and influence of various categories of “spokespeople” (such as CEOs, NGO reps, and the like).  Some of the related findings include:

  • There is no clear voice of authority.  When asked who they would trust to provide news and information about business, about half would find a CEO credible (49%) but only about one-third (35%) would trust the government.  NGOs are trusted about half the time (48%), and academics and technical experts fared a bit better with credibility rankings around two-thirds (64% and 67%, respectively).  When asked about how much each institution could be trusted to address social issues, government scored even lower than business – 15% versus 26%.
  • Increasingly, respondents trust their peers as much or more than anyone else.  Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) would trust information about a business given to them by “a person like yourself”.  This is up from less than half just five years ago (43% in 2011).  This trend is reinforced by rising rates of news consumption through social media.
  • Business is increasingly expected to take on a bigger role in promoting the public good.  In 2015, 74% of respondents indicated that “a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates”.  This number rose to 80% in 2016.

What do these trends mean for business? 

With fact-fighting figures like Trump looming over the world of politics, it is not surprising that trust in government is low.  What may be somewhat surprising, however, is the ever-growing expectation for business to take on a role in tackling societal issues.

Business thus far has risen to the occasion in a variety of ways, be it philanthropic donations to communities, like Target’s 5% give-back commitment; cause-brand alliances, like the NFL’s longstanding partnership to promote breast cancer awareness; partnerships with nonprofits to enhance the sustainability of business practices, like IKEA’s work with the WWF to better manage environmental resources; a self-regulatory role by adopting voluntary standards, like certifying timber products with the Forest Stewardship Council; or any other number of efforts.  Indeed, we have entered a new era for business.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer results and several academic studies also point to instrumental benefits for business who engage in societal issues.  Employees at companies engaged in societal issues report much higher levels of motivation, commitment and confidence in the company, and have lower turnover.  When supply chains are closely managed, reputational and operational risks go down, like the ones we saw with the horrific 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh.  And, if that’s not enough, research has shown that socially responsible companies perform better financially in competitive markets than do irresponsible ones.


Trust is shifting and expectations of business are changing as the public’s confidence in governments and politics dwindles.  The time is ripe for business to step up to the plate to take a swing at their new role.  In addition to societal benefits, business can expect to see positive impacts to its performance, too.

Erin Leitheiser is a PhD Fellow in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School.  Her research interests revolve around the changing role and expectations of business in society.  Prior to pursuing her PhD she worked as a CSR manager in a U.S. Fortune-50 company, as well as a public policy consultant with a focus on convening and facilitating of multi-stakeholder initiatives.  She is supported by the Velux Foundation and is on Twitter.  

pic by cbsnews

The Global Compact – Building Bridges, or Barriers?

By Marianne Prytz and Margrete Eilertsen.

One of the main purposes of the UN Global Compact (GC) is to include the private sector in the development agenda. However, is the initiative truly inclusive, or is it yet another contributing factor dividing the North and the South?

Being stronger together – leveraging local network effects

From its official launch in 2000, the UN Global Compact (GC) has developed to become the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, currently comprising of more than 12,000 signatories. Local Networks (LN’s) are clusters of GC participants who voluntarily form country- or region- based groups, with the aim of advancing the GC and its principles in a specific geographic context. Due to the possible positive effects LNs can have on promoting sustainable business practices on a local level, especially in developing countries, we wanted to explore the topic further. In our Master’s thesis, we investigated possible enabling and restricting factors affecting a Local Network’s (LN) operational capacity, using the Uganda LN as our case study.

Based on our research, we found the most important enabling factors for the Uganda LN to be:

  • A strong hosting organization;
  • An effective governance system;
  • Indications that personal trust has developed within the Uganda LN over time.

Sufficient funding is crucial for a local network to develop

Regardless of the enabling factors supporting the Uganda LN, we found that the network is currently struggling. The main reason for these problems was the low level of financial resources within the LN. This severely restricts the operational capacity of the LN in the following ways:

  • Lack of Human Resources;
  • Few events and activities;
  • Lack of LN Uganda webpage;
  • High reliance on the focal point organization, the Federation of Uganda Employers.

These factors limit the networks opportunities to operate effectively and make a lasting impact on the Uganda Business Society.

As of today, each GCLN is supposed to be self-sufficient in terms of financial resources, and mainly source these resources locally. Thus, the LNs do not receive any direct funding from the GC Office or Foundation in New York. This in itself is not a problem. However, where both governments and MNCs in developed countries have been more willing to fund their LNs, companies and governments in developing countries have not been able to support their LNs to the same extent. This is what we are witnessing in the Uganda LN.

Is the Global Compact’s bottom-up strategy only working in theory?

Based on the GC’s 2014 Africa Strategy report called“ Partners in Change”, we found that several of the African LNs are struggling with similar issues as we experienced in Uganda. If it is so that LNs from developing countries in general have less financial resources compared to their Western counterparts, this might arguably increase the existing financial divide between Northern and Southern countries.

The GC emphasizes that their approach is bottom up, and builds on locally adopted strategies, which in theory is a refreshing and original approach in comparison to traditional development and sustainability practices. However, what we have noticed exemplified in the case of the Uganda LN, is that unless the status quo is challenged, the GC might develop into a new forum for separating developed and developing countries.

As we believe the GC has an important role to play in today’s globalized society, we hope the initiative chooses to focus on evening out this divide, in order to fully reach its potential in developing countries.

Marianne Prytz and Margrete Eilertsen have just graduated from the Department of Business, language and culture at CBS. They are now proud holders of the Degree Cand. merc. Int. in business and development studies. In their Master thesis on the UN Global Compact, they researched sustainable business practices.

pic by pexels-foto

The Responsibility to Disrupt?

By Glen Whelan.

Project Breakthrough: A New Initiative from the United Nations Global Compact

Through its Global Compact, John Ruggie’s special representative work on human rights and multinational corporations, and a whole host of other initiatives, the United Nations (UN) has long been a leader in corporate responsibility and sustainability matters. With the relatively new Project Breakthrough, it appears that the Global Compact in particular, is looking to maintain the UN’s leading role, and leverage its prominent position, in business and society relations. A collaboration with the ‘market catalyst’ Volans – whose co-founder and Chief Pollinator (no kidding) is John Elkington (a champion of triple bottom line thinking in prior times) – Project Breakthrough seeks to translate the United Nation’s “new 2030 Sustainable Development Goals into business action” by challenging and stretching “prevailing business mindsets into new opportunity spaces”.

Project Breakthrough has three specific areas of focus.

  1. It seeks to foster “exponential mindsets” by asking: “what does the future look like and what can leaders in all spheres learn from the ‘anything-is-possible’ approach that is common among successful innovators?”
  2. It emphasizes the importance of “disruptive technologies” such as artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, by asking: how can they “transform what’s possible in terms of sustainable performance and longer-term system change?” and
  3. It looks towards “tomorrow’s business models” by asking: how “new disruptive technologies” can enable “more sustainable, collaborative and circular business models?

Project Breakthrough’s Techno-Utopian Context

For those who know of Google’s current Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil – and his sidekick Peter Diamandis, who, further to his very pronounced self-promotion skills, co-founded Singularity University with Kurzweil around 2007 – the basic ideas of Project Breakthrough will be familiar. They can also be readily lampooned, as Seth Rogen is reportedly soon to do. Whilst some might find such commentary cynical, the Global Compact’s willingness to embrace techno-utopian ideas that broadly align with those of “Trump delegate, Facebook board member, billionaire PayPal cofounder” and Singularity University supporter, Peter Thiel, does raise questions as to the role of trends and fashion in corporate responsibility and sustainability policy and practice.

The Risks of Disruption

Whilst none of the above mentioned parties are a priori wrong to think that technology and innovation can help address many of the world’s most pressing problems, Project Breakthough’s implicit suggestion that business has a responsibility to disrupt markets (and societies) is facile. Companies like Uber, for example, are clearly new and disruptive. As ongoing disputes with its partner and not employee drivers indicate, however, Uber’s emphasis on technological disruption and new business models seems far removed from both the concern to end poverty (2030 Sustainable Development Goal No. 1), and the UN Global Compact’s concern with labour rights.

In short, the current emphasis on exponential mindsets, disruptive technologies, and tomorrow’s business models, is not risk free. Indeed, without significant qualification, it is not clear how Project Breakthrough’s recent championing of disruptive change is to be rendered consistent with George Kell’s 2003 suggestion that the Global Compact “can only effectively serve as a learning platform that facilitates gradual, incremental change”. So perhaps the Global Compact should adopt a more precautionary approach to the disruptive possibilities of technology for society and the environment. Alternatively, it might further investigate how such ideas as the universal basic income much loved by Silicon Valley could hedge against them.

Glen Whelan is Marie Curie Research Fellow at Copenhagen Business School. He researches Business Ethics, Politics and Corporate Social Responsibility, Internet Studies and Organization Theory. He’s on Twitter.

Pic by: cnet

Stimulating subsidiaries’ learning processes: why one size-fits all approaches do not work

By Dr Gabriela Gutierrez-Huerter O.

Globalisation has intensified calls for multi-national corporations (MNCs) to engage in social initiatives ranging from community outreach and environmental protection, to ethical business practices. Alongside the rise of CSR there has been a demand for the accountability and the transparency on CSR issues.

To report or not to report is no longer a question for MNCs

The latest KPMG corporate responsibility reporting survey shows that 92% of the largest world’s MNCs annually report information about their environmental and social impacts mainly through the publication of stand-alone CSR reports or as part of their annual reports following recognised reporting standards. The Global Reporting Initiative is widely regarded as the de factor standard of sustainability reporting for companies operating internationally. In order to prepare these accounts, MNCs’ head-offices transfer ‘technical’ knowledge (i.e. use of management information systems centralising the collection of data, calculation of KPIs) and ‘know-how’ knowledge (i.e. meaning of the data collected, the organisational implications of the data collected and how to respond to social and environmental issues) to their subsidiaries. As part of a collection of studies providing new perspectives on headquarters-subsidiary relationships in the context of the contemporary MNC, Jeremy Moon, Stefan Gold, Wendy Chapple and I investigate the mechanisms that enable the transfer social and environmental accountability and reporting (SEAR) knowledge across MNCs’ subsidiaries.

Quality over quantity and why sometimes it is the medium that matters

Similar to what one would expect in a classroom scenario, we argue that the benefit created from a knowledge flow does not reside on how much an organisational unit receives knowledge but rather on the means used to diffuse it that will trigger the capabilities to filter (i.e. exploratory learning), assimilate (i.e. transformative learning) and apply the transferred knowledge (exploitative learning). Some of the key findings of this research are:

  • Social mechanisms such as communications, visits, and corporate socialization practices are significant predictors of the capability to assimilate ‘know-how’ knowledge.
  • In the absence of face to face interaction and expatriate managers, experienced liaison personnel interpret the meaning of SEAR, enhance the credibility of the transfer and the potential to apply the transferred knowledge.
  • Integration mechanisms and visits from the head-office (contingent on the time of the visit) can trigger the three learning processes (exploratory, transformative and exploitative) and dissipate the ‘top-down’ and ‘distant’ perceptions of the transfer
  • The absence of financial incentives and lack of specification of performance criteria sends a signal to employees that SEAR was neither a ‘business priority’ nor ‘strategic’, contrary to the head-office’s intention to make SEAR a competitive advantage.
  • Budget controls inhibit the way in which subsidiaries apply SEAR knowledge since subsidiaries are dependent on resources from the HQ

One-size fits all? Not in the transfer of CSR-related knowledge

Our findings thus suggest that head-offices aiming at increasing the learning processes of subsidiaries need to manage their foreign subsidiaries so as to stimulate the development of capabilities of recognition, assimilation and application through a mix of control, social and integration mechanisms that complement their repository stocks of knowledge.

The case study exposes the risks of MNCs’ ‘one-size fits all’ approaches in the transfer of knowledge and on the paradoxical role of the head-office which considered social and environmental accountability knowledge as ‘strategic” for the development of local competitive advantages to solve social and environmental dilemmas, but used inappropriate mechanisms limiting and damaging subsidiaries capabilities to identify, assimilate and exploit knowledge. In light of the increased standardization of CSR processes across MNCs, our study thus raises the question on whether the diffusion of knowledge underpinning ‘best practices’ is in fact triggering substantive change towards sustainability at the local level.

Dr Gabriela Gutierrez-Huerter O is Fellow in Management (CSR) at King’s College, London. Her research interests center on the cross-national transfer of CSR practices within MNCs and the determinants of subsidiary adaptation in the context of international acquisitions. Additionally, she has a keen interest in comparative CSR particularly in the study of the influence of national institutions on CSR practices.


Bold Businesses wanted for transformative Deep Retrofit – The CBS Student and Innovation House

By Kristjan Jespersen and Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen.

We live in times of change. Society is quickly evolving in every aspect, facing us with global ecological, economic, human and social challenges. To overcome these perils students must play a key role in formulating and developing the necessary solutions needed to curb these complex future challenges. Its is crucial that, during their studies, students are given the tools needed in a thriving, thought-provoking and ambitious framework in which they can question the status quo and develop world-class innovations with long lasting impact.

Why student engagement matters

The Copenhagen Business School (CBS) has a longstanding tradition of such student engagement. Students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are actively engaged in various ways (internships, community service learning, entrepreneurship, student organisations, research, etc.) with many communities outside the campus. While many activities are formally initiated through university associations, the vast majority of activities are initiated independently. Students build upon the lessons learned in the classroom with such real-world experiences.

The quickly developing student initiative of creating the CBS Student and Innovation House (SIH) builds upon this already established momentum. Emerging from the vestiges of Frederiksberg’s old police station it wishes to solve the grand challenges of our time in a hitherto unseen collaboration between students, researchers, businesses and the public sector. It will challenge conventional thinking and give students the tools to translate their ideas into solutions while giving them the drive and courage needed to take responsibility for the positive transformation of the world we live in.
Central to the house is its engagement with sustainability as practices and outcomes. It aims to extend beyond narrow definitions and in the spirit of the house entail human and societal well being, as well as promoting sustainable practices in business, economics and society. It is intended to supplement existing activities with a set of specific programs to enable students to work with partners, to forge new initiatives and to inspire, support and promote sustainability activities both on and off campus.

The building

Names on the people in the picture are, from left to right, Anne Marie Larsen, Andreas Gjede, Jens Bonde, Christian Refshauge and Anne Katrine Vedstesen.
Names on the people in the picture are, from left to right, Anne Marie Larsen, Andreas Gjede, Jens Bonde, Christian Refshauge and Anne Katrine Vedstesen.

The foundation for the CBS Student and Innovation House is the 97 year old police station designed by the famous Danish architect Hack Kampmann’s, located in the heart of Copenhagen at Frederiksberg at Howitzvej 30. The building is a cultural and historical gem and forms part of an urban space with with a high architectural value. The building has more than 3,100 m2 plus an inward yard and large basement. The beautiful square with the water fountain and the  two colonnades in front of the house creates a peaceful space and ceremonial welcome. From the outside the building represents the students’ great grandparents’ traditional Danish resource: craftsmanship, while on the inside the building will be a testimony of today’s proud Danish resource: creative and smart minds, who dares to think innovatively and challenge conventional thinking.

Building this vessel will be no small feat. The students have to-date raised 52.5 million DKK and they have framed the project as a living laboratory for sustainability.

SIH – an interconnecting test bed for sustainability and innovation

SIH will treat this deep-retrofit project as an opportunity to implement, test, research, and teach sustainability, and in that way contribute directly to the significant transitions required to reach a sustainable future. The unique focus of the SIH’s approach would be its emphasis on the behavioural and business dimensions of the sustainability components and innovative approach to collaboration between private and public stakeholders and students.

To this end, the students propose a retrofit project that supports its sustainability objectives by:

  • Produces a world-renowned building project, that
  • Operates at the frontier of sustainability,
  • Is net positive in both human-well-being and environmental outcomes,
  • Produces a world-renowned building project, that operates at the frontier of sustainability,
  • Is net positive in both human-well-being and environmental outcomes,
  • Contributes directly to the health, productivity and subjective wellbeing of everyone in the buildings, and that
  • Directly supports and is reflected in the social innovation and community engagement activities that go on in the building and the campus community, including
  • An ongoing monitoring and social science research program, that offers the opportunity to implement, test, and teach sustainability,
  • A specific focus on the analysis of behaviour change,
  • The encouragement of innovation for societal benefit,
  • A strong focus on breaking down silos between students, faculty and society,
  • Partnerships with firms and organizations interested in sustainable building and neighbourhoods, that offer the capacity to build a regional scale living lab that focuses on the role of the business sector in the sustainability transition.
  • Exploring possible ways for integrating students drive and commitment in more informal learning ways, such as extracurricular projects, informal collaboration with researchers along with the possibility of internships and for-credit engagement with both on-campus and off-campus partners.

Invitation for collaboration

This project, however, cannot happen without the vision and mission of forward thinking companies, civil society organizations and municipalities desiring to push the limits of sustainability. The SIH calls on the builders, the technology providers, the municipalities, the consultants, the green building civil-society, the innovators and the start-ups to come together and devise the most innovative retrofit solutions for a project that will have lasting and scalable building opportunities. The students place a challenge at the feet of these stakeholders and invite them onboard this transformative task.

For more info, contact Anne Marie Larsen:

Kristjan Jespersen is Doctoral Fellow at the Dept. of Intercultural Communication and Management at CBS and Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen is Co-Founder of the CBS Student and Innovation House.

Pic by Petra Kleis.



The Decline of Neoliberalism – Implications for CSR?

By Steen Vallentin.

“May you live in interesting times” – so the apocryphal English-language expression goes that people often refer to as ‘the Chinese curse’. Times are certainly interesting. Taken for granted notions of what is up and down and left and right in politics are, if not turned on their head then knocked about in confusing and sometimes frightening ways.

The strange (non-)death of neoliberalism … again?

One of the interesting developments in world politics right now is the crisis of neoliberalism as ideology. A development that some will indeed see as a curse, others as a blessing. It is not the first time that neoliberalism has been declared dead or seen to be in its death throes. Many obituaries of finance capitalism and global free trade were written in the wake of the financial crisis. Nevertheless, neoliberalism has shown itself to be remarkably resilient and has continued – in spite of public criticism – to be a dominant force in public policy around the world. Colin Crouch has referred to this recurring trajectory as ‘the strange non-death of neoliberalism”.

However, Brexit (and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as head of Labour) and the movements surrounding Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States are each in their own way symptomatic of a turning of the political tide against hyper-globalization and free market capitalism. The benefits of free trade – of goods, services and capital – and outsourcing of labor to low-cost destinations are now being challenged across the political spectrum. Even the Republic candidate for the presidency is questioning, supposedly (who knows with Trump), fundamental tenets of economic liberalism. The crisis of neoliberalism is both an intellectual and a popular one. Leading economists like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Sachs and Thomas Piketty are among its vocal adversaries, and a public/populist movement is revolting against the crises and rising inequality that are associated with it. Even top economist from the IMF have recently acknowledged that neoliberalism has been “oversold”.

CSR as an embodiment of neoliberal ideology?

These developments, seen in isolation, would seem to pave the way for a political climate  more attuned to the wants and needs of working people and to social values and democratic inclusion (as opposed to solutions based on the supposed workings of the sacrosanct market mechanism). How does it relate to CSR, then? What is the relationship between CSR and neoliberalism?

Arguably, the CSR literature has suffered from a lack of political-ideological self-reflection (and -criticism). Ideological reflection is often left to scholars and others who position themselves as outsiders to the field. As a result, rough and sweeping generalizations tend to prevail. As when critical sociologists and political science scholars suggest that CSR is simply an embodiment or reflection of neoliberalism (because it supports voluntary corporate self-regulation as opposed to government regulation etc.). Critical scholarship of the CMS (critical management studies) variety tend to strongly emphasize the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism as an all-pervasive and suppressive ideology and to stereotype/debunk the CSR literature as a supporter of this ideology.

Locating neoliberalism within CSR: Porter & Kramer on shared value

It is ultimately misleading, though, to think of the CSR literature in total as a reflection of a neoliberal mindset and of CSR promoters as suffering from false consciousness if they fail to realize this. A more nuanced and less stereotypical view of CSR allows us to distinguish between different forms of liberal thinking in CSR and to single out those instrumental streams of thought that more accurately deserves the label ‘neoliberal’. Here, pride of place goes to the strategic CSR/creating shared value approach promoted by Michael Porter & Mark Kramer in their series of influential Harvard Business Review papers. Porter & Kramer effectively subject all social action to the tribunal of cost-benefit analysis and economic value creation. Their approach is supposed to ensure that it is economic rationality and economic measures of worth, and not personal values or fleeting ethical, social or environmental sentiments (as promoted by more or less knowledgeable and qualified stakeholders), that hold sway over proceedings. In their view, shared value represents an internally driven and innovative way for businesses to address social problems and needs in ways that are also beneficial for themselves.

Collective impact – shared value as collaboration

However, a new paper on shared value by Mark Kramer and Marc Pfitzer suggests a softening of the neoliberal rhetoric and an opening toward a more inclusive and democratic approach to responsibility. The core concept here is ‘collective impact’ and the case is made for companies to engage in trust-building and mutually reinforcing partnerships with NGOs, governments and competing businesses as this will provide the strongest basis for dealing effectively with social problems and create shared value. The authors even concede that companies cannot be the backbone of such projects as they are not neutral players; instead, a separate and independently funded staff is called for. Indeed, collective impact calls for a new brand of leadership, ‘system leadership’ that involves multiple individuals from different constituencies leading together.

The new paper has already been accused of intellectual piracy on social media, and it certainly does not excel in terms of originality. Its significance rather lies in its ceding of ground to democratic adversaries in the CSR debate. The paper may be read as a reflection of the diminished self-confidence of purely neoliberal thinking about business and society. Whether or how this ceding of ground will make a real difference in the real world of business remains to be seen. At this time, we can see that a concept (shared value) that is rooted in neoclassical economics and has otherwise been associated with a clear corporate bias is now being presented as a collective, democratic endeavor. It is certainly interesting.

Steen Vallentin is Director of the CBS Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (cbsCSR) and Associate Professor in the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy at Copenhagen Business School.

Pic by bNation of Change

CSR in Asia – A Learner’s Reflections

By Jeremy Moon.

One of the most exciting features of my CSR adventures has been Asia.  As a result of opportunities to travel, meet and engage with Asian academics and practitioners, I have been able to ponder, write and edit research on CSR in Asia for over a decade. However, I still think of myself as a learner. I don’t live in Asia and I don’t know any Asian languages – unless we count English! 

Moreover, Asia is so large and diverse that acquaintance with one country may give little guidance to how things work in others. Scholars are relatively at ease in generalizing about national approaches in the USA and Europe (probably wrongly, but that’s another story!). In Asia this can be tricky as many countries have diverse business systems (see Witt and Redding eds. 2014).  Nonetheless, Asian countries, no less than any other, do acquire national business systems and thus national studies, with appropriate cautions, are none the less valuable. My paper with Wendy Chapple on the subject (Chapple and Moon 2005) has proved a reference point for other interested scholars. Doubtless it has irritated others who would point, for example, to the diversity of business systems in, say, India, predicated on issues of culture, religion, politics, law and economic development.

We need to address the gap to non-normative theorization of CSR in Asia research

Undeterred I have pursued my appetite for CSR in Asia, most recently with Rebecca Chunghee Kim (Kim and Moon 2015). We investigated the place of CSR in Asian business and management research. Our finding was of a growth of the proportion of publications on Asian topics in the leading CSR journals, and of a growth in the proportion of publications on CSR topics in leading Asian business and management journals between 2000 and 2014. The papers we studied were overwhelmingly empirical rather than theoretical, and the empirics were increasingly of a quantitative rather than of a qualitative nature. It is to be hoped that this imbalance will be redressed particularly by greater attention to non-normative theorization of CSR in Asia research.

Whilst the growth of publications was manifest across all three geographical regions we distinguish (East Asia, South East Asia and South Asia), it was particularly strong in East Asia – largely explained by research on China. This is interesting as in our first analysis of company self-reporting of CSR in Asia conducted in 2002 – 2003 (Moon and Chapple 2005), China did not feature as we did not have a sufficient sample of Chinese companies self-reporting their CSR.

Regulation by norms dominates Asian CSR

CSR in the West has taken a new institutional turn with a shift from an emphasis to ethical norms and philanthropy to include a variety of new organizations (e.g. partnerships, multi-stakeholder initiatives) and regulations (e.g. soft rules of international standards and government reporting regulations). So Rebecca and I investigated what impact these had in CSR in Asia research? Interestingly about 40% of publications we studied had some sort of reference to institutionalization. Whilst this seems like a fairly predictable score, curiously, there was virtually no attention to the institutionalization of CSR in Asia through ‘organization’, and almost all the research focused on the institutionalization of CSR through ‘regulation’.

We investigated these papers further by distinguishing those that focused on regulation by ‘norms’, ‘soft rules’ and ‘mandate’, and whether these regulations were ‘situated’ (i.e. located in specific communities or places) or ‘universal’ (i.e. based on abstractions e.g. human rights;  or international frameworks e.g. the United Nations Global Compact).  Whilst there was some attention to ‘soft rules’ (e.g. the ISO 26000) and ‘mandate’ (e.g. the Indian CSR Act), the finding was of an overwhelming stress on ‘norms’.  The orientation of these norms and other forms of regulation, was almost entirely ‘situated’ rather than universal.

Community as No.1 stakeholder demands ‘the right thing to do’

In this light, our analysis turned to the place of community in Asian CSR.  Our review suggested that this is the No.1 stakeholder in Asian CSR, and this centrality is framed primarily in ethical terms. This ethical character is often expressed with reference to long-standing religious and other cultural conceptualisations of ‘the right thing to do’. It contrasts with the greater stress on the range of ‘primary’ company stakeholders in stakeholder approaches to CSR in the West, including employees, investors and consumers, as well as communities. Here there is greater emphasis on functional motivations for these relationships, notwithstanding Ed Freeman’s own stress on ethical and strategic reasons for managing for stakeholders (e.g. Freeman, Harrison and Wicks 2007).

The way forward

Among the questions that arise is the durability of these community orientations in the context of the increasing internationalization of business. Can Asian companies retain these grass-roots orientations as their value chains grow? Will there be a bi-furcation of CSR in Asia between its domestic relations, institutionalized by the ethics of community, and its international relations institutionalized by CSR organizations and regulation by soft law and mandate? Will CSR in Asia take on a more organizational form? How will Asian and Western forms of CSR interact in the future?

Jeremy Moon is Professor and Velux Professor in Corporate Sustainability at the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at Copenhagen Business School. His primary research areas are corporate social responsibility, corporate sustainability, corporate citizenship, corporations and governance and business and politics.

Photo: allthefreestock

Getting the next generation critically engaged – Reflections on Responsibility Day at CBS 2016

By Martiina Mira Matharu M. Srkoc & Mette Morsing.

On their very first official day as bachelor students at Copenhagen Business School,  approximately 2.000 young people met at Falkoner Hall near CBS. The main agenda was to engage in a debate about what does responsibility mean for business and for a business school as well as for its students.

The case method as a mean to make responsibility more tangible

To make things a little more ”real”, a case study had been developed for this year’s batch of 2016-students. This year’s case concerned how the Danish glassblower and social for-profit entrepreneur, Pernille Bülow, over the last decade has established a business in partnership with an NGO from the Global South. The business partnership produces jewellery for the Western market and builds on a hundred year old tradition among women in Eastern Ghana of producing beads of recycled glass. Pernille Bülow has managed to re-fashion the beads into stylish jewellery designs to be sold in Europe  and as such creating local jobs for a group of single mothers in the local villages in Ghana. However, Pernille Bülow Ltd. is still a relatively small business; although it has great potential, the social entrepreneurship struggles with a number of challenges. CBS students were therefore given the opportunity to engage in a case competition with the ambition of providing advice to Pernille Bülow on challenges of scalability, internal expansion, social media and marketing.

Across 19 study programs students produced proposals for Pernille Bülow. Over100 proposals were submitted and 3 winners were identified and invited to present in front of a jury that included Pernille Bülow herself the following week and a winner was found and awarded.

A university’s responsibility: shaping leaders with a simultaneous concern for business and society

One of the most important things we do as university staff is to educate the next generation of decision makers. Many years ago, CBS students came to this institution primarily to learn how to “crack the numbers” and get the right answer. CBS has long been recognised as producing solid and capable “tradesmen”. Today this ideal has been extended to include a systematic effort to develop study programs to reflect the complexity of challenges for business navigating in contemporary society. Not only is it important for students to master the tools for profit maximization, but it is increasingly important to learn how businesses have to navigate, engage and contribute to the development of political, social and environmental challenges locally and globally. Needless to say, the understanding and support from CBS top management is crucial for carrying this message across.

Responsibility Day also provides an opportunity for students to directly address top management, an opportunity that is greatly appreciated. CBS’ management team is on stage responding to questions from students like ”How does CBS make sure that corporate partners are aligned or live up to CBS’ ethical standards for example engaging with the British American Tobacco company as a CBS partner?” and “CBS seems to be taking responsibility really seriously, but I believe it hasn’t been like this forever. So when and why did responsibility become such an important part of CBS?” CBS management responded by pointing to CBS’s longstanding tradition of research and teaching in responsible management that serves as point of distinctiveness.

While the CBS Responsibility Day does not necessarily change the mindset of energetic and hopeful young students, the hope is that it will at least make them think about the role of business in a challenged society.

Martiina Mira Matharu M. Srkoc is Head of Section, PRME and responsible for the administration and implementation of PRME.
Mette Morsing is Professor at the CBS Center for Corporate Social Responsibility and researches Business and CSR / Sustainability, Governance and CSR, Communication studies, Organization theory and Identity-image relations.

Pic by Jørgen Albertus