Corporate responsibility, governance and accountability: from self-regulation to co-regulation

Laura Albareda

Laura Albareda is based at the Institute for Social Innovation, ESADE Business School, Barcelona, Spain

Abstract Purpose – The aim of this paper is to analyze the changing role of business in a globalized society, focusing on transnational corporations as private authorities which have gained power in global governance. The paper will aim to address the following issues: the development of CSR as a voluntary framework based on self-regulation instruments through which corporations can manage their social and environmental impacts; corporations’ exercise of power and authority in developing CSR standards globally through inter-firm cooperation; and CSR as a mechanism to transform business culture through the development of co-regulatory instruments between corporations and their stakeholders. Design/methodology/approach – This paper describes the emergence of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a new governance framework, essentially created by the pressure of global civil society on corporations. The research focuses on the analysis of new forms of business political activities: self-regulation and co-regulation. Findings – The findings describe how transnational corporations have become private authorities, competing or collaborating with global civil society or public authorities to develop a new framework of social and environmental regulations to manage their responsibilities and exercise their global power. Practical implications – This paper highlights the need for regulatory tools to transform global governance. CSR requires the development of public accountability mechanisms for private authorities, an issue that can be resolved by developing global governance networks between public and private actors. Originality/value – This paper explains why CSR has taken shape through the creation of self-regulation management standards and co-regulating norms and instruments where transnational corporations are a major driving force. Keywords Corporate social responsibility, Corporate governance, Society, Multinational companies, Environmental regulation, Regulation Paper type Conceptual paper

Introduction
Over the last 30 years, globalization has produced substantial changes in the structure of international society (Held and McGrew, 2002; European Commission, 2001). One of the most important consequences of globalization has been the emergence of new areas in which business activity takes place beyond the political, legal and economic control of nation-states (Ohmae, 1995; Drucker, 1997; Dunning, 1997). Today, transnational corporations have developed economic interconnectedness alongside transnational production networks and financial flows (Held and McGrew, 2002; World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2006). Economic and environmental globalization has implied a shift in the nature and form of political organization in world politics (Held and McGrew, 2002). One of the most significant implications of globalization is the emergence of non-governmental actors in global governance (Rosenau, 1995; Cutler et al., 1999; Higgott et al., 2000; Hall and Biersteker, 2002), especially transnational corporations and global civil society. This means that a

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VOL. 8 NO. 4 2008, pp. 430-439, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1472-0701

DOI 10.1108/14720700810899176

Finally. p. 1999. 4 2008 CORPORATE GOVERNANCE PAGE 431 j j . Transnational corporations are increasingly participating in rule-making and rule-implementation in a global context. 1996. 1999.. The former is a process in progress whose final consolidation is as yet unknown and which is based on the absence of a world government exercising its power in international society. The hypothesis is that we cannot understand the CSR concept without understanding the new global governance structure that has emerged over the last few decades as a result of globalization. 2005). The paper is divided into four sections. 2000). Scholte. the political transformation of nation-state power and the emergence of non-governmental actors have revealed the need to reorganize the frameworks of transnational governance and regulations by taking into account the changes caused by globalization and incorporating new structural elements (Rosenau and Czempiel. The second section focuses on the emergence of CSR as a business-driven movement and the creation of new rules. The adoption of responsible business policies has spread rapidly among transnational companies operating in global contexts as well as among SMEs (Zadek. 2002).. CSR has emerged as a voluntary framework for corporations (Holme and Watts. Here. 8 NO. regional and international levels (Carroll.growing number of global corporations and non-governmental organizations appear to have taken on a political role in the global political economy (Cutler et al. the fourth section analyses the emergence of CSR and the development of multi-stakeholder initiatives. 2008). The term ‘‘global governance’’ can thus be defined as ‘‘the activity of governing relations that transcend national frontiers without having sovereign authority’’ (Filkenstein. 368). social and political question in both developed and developing countries and at local. global VOL. the thesis of governance without government appeared for the first time within the international relations theory agenda (Rosenau and Czempiel. In just one decade. This paper examines the role of business in society within this new context of a global society. previously. In the international context. Our analysis of CSR reveals many aspects of global corporate power and the different mechanisms corporations have used to exercise their authority. national. Matten and Crane. only nation-states had any responsibility (Cutler et al. At the same time. 1995. 1992. Rosenau. The first analyses the emergence of a new global governance arena and the changing role of business in a globalized society. 2001). companies are behaving in different ways: including a new relational logic behind inter-firm cooperation and collaborating with other firms and non-governmental organizations (Zadek. Braithwaite and Dahos. New global economic activities require the emergence of new regulations and their enforcement. Many companies are under pressure from civil society organizations and corporate accountability networks monitoring business malpractice (Scherer and Palazzo. It was a new focus linked to the profound changes created by economic globalization and other changes in both the distribution of power and the governance structure of international society. In the 1990s. Hall and Biersteker. Scholte.. 2001). It also examines the emergence of CSR as an interface between transnational corporations and the corporate accountability movement. 1999. corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become an extremely important economic. This definition can be applied to the international context. standards and management systems. 1995. Cox. Crane et al. governance and government are two different concepts. The third analyses the development of inter-firm cooperation and the creation of CSR business associations. One of these areas is within the framework of corporate social and environmental responsibility. The emergence of corporate social responsibility as an interface between transnational corporations and the corporate accountability movement Over the last few decades. Hewson and Sinclair. The term ‘‘governance’’ refers to the self-organizing networks of action which complement the markets and hierarchies that make up the structures of government. in areas where. 2006. 2001). 1992). 1996). It explores the development of CSR as a sphere of governance. the latter as public-private or civic-private co-regulation mechanisms. 2007). 2000. Its authority stems from the allocation of resources and the exercise of control and co-ordination (Rhodes. 1999.

in the early 1990s. some companies did not take into account the negative consequences of their activity and moved around the planet searching for countries with the lowest labor costs and the weakest social and environmental regulations. ‘‘macro’’ and ‘‘micro’’. In terms of the environment. These crises revealed the consequences of taking the principle of maximizing profits to the extreme without bearing in mind the risks it entails (European Commission. Global governance reinforces the involvement of non-governmental authorities in reorienting political skills. Civil society was now questioning the unlimited power of large firms that were believed to be provoking an increase in social inequality and exclusion and the destruction of natural resources. 1999) refers to regulatory mechanisms in global spheres. such as occurred with Nike in Southeast Asia. informal and institutional state-centered and multi-centered action. This has led to the idea that different forms of global governance must arise. taking into account the emergence of different forms in which authority is re-structured through different levels and areas in world politics (Rosenau and Czempiel. 1999. pp. civil society began to demand that companies respect the conventions and agreements signed within UN conferences on the environment and development and that they take into consideration the basic environmental regulations adopted by western governments or regional organizations such as the European Commission (Scholte. 1992. questioning the blind and irrational dominion of free markets as advocated by large firms (Held and McGrew. First. globalization implied a ‘‘darker’’ side of business activity that was becoming evident through various environmental and social crises which began to affect the corporate world’s reputation. 3-6). PAGE 432 CORPORATE GOVERNANCE VOL. a series of environmental catastrophes were linked to irresponsible actions by large firms. 2004). It is also worth noting that there is no clear hierarchy of power between the actors who have an influence on international society (Hewson and Sinclair. GAP and ‘‘sweatshops’’ in Central America and Royal Dutch/Shell and the execution of Ogoni indigenous leaders in Nigeria (Bendell. after the mid 1980s. 2004). with contradictory local and global trends and cohesion and conflict. Civil society criticized companies for not enacting and respecting decent working conditions everywhere. 2004). a series of reports emerged regarding poor working conditions in general and child labor in particular. The analysis of global governance (Rosenau. and areas of authority once exclusive to the state are now shared with other sources of authority (Cox. Nevertheless. Bendell. Bendell. 1995). As a result. 1970). 2001. the Corporate Accountability Movement emerged at the end of the last century as one of the most influential phenomena of global civil society. 1992. with fair salaries and labor and social rights which were protected internationally by United Nations declarations and International Labour Organisation Conventions and Recommendations. In the 1980s. 2001). 1996). This in turn implies an enormous variety of actors and shapes. As a consequence. One of the most common denominators within global governance is the growing participation by firms in tasks that were once the domain of public authorities (Cutler et al. emphasizing a dynamic proliferation of processes. The Royal Dutch/Shell incident in the North Sea or the Exxon Valdes in Alaska are a couple of examples with the greatest impact on public opinion. the state authority’s control over society and the economy has eroded. These critical campaigns were incorporated into what is known as the ‘‘anti-globalisation movement‘‘ (Held and McGrew. Hewson and Sinclair. 2002. To this point. 8 NO.governance performs the same function as governments within the nation-state (Rosenau and Czempiel. despite lax existence and enforcement of national regulations in some producing countries[1]. 1992). 1999). thus forming a continuum between transnational and sub-national. 4 2008 j j . In order to achieve their objectives. Global change implies the end of government primacy and the appearance of governance. Second. Scholte. various crises made corporations the center of public attention. most transnational corporations had adopted the principle of providing the maximum value for shareholders solely by maximizing their profits (Friedman. 2002).. 2001). and co-operation and conflict (Rosenau.

CSR has been constructed by particular global industries that propagate their own sets of principles and norms through practices and policies developed by a ‘‘responsible business epistemic community. Companies promote a regulatory business framework covering social and environmental risks. 1970). business leaders oppose governmental proposals to regulate and establish public international norms. different self-regulation instruments have appeared to help corporations adopt CSR practices. accountability. If we are to explore what lies behind the voluntary acceptance by corporations of policies and instruments to manage social responsibility. 2004). considering a range of interests and impacts among a variety of different stakeholders. a series of responsible practices have voluntarily arisen within the global business framework (Bendell. CSR is about how all company operations have an impact upon society. These include (Crane et al. CSR is essentially a business-driven movement. 2001). Haufler (1999) identified the CSR movement as the emergence of ‘‘political activism’’ among companies to change corporate norms in the social and environmental arena. These include social and environmental performance standards and limits.At the end of the 1990s and as a result of this conflictive situation. 2001). 2008): B B voluntary activities that go beyond those prescribed by the law. As Haufler (1999) describes. VOL. There is still clear debate within the business sector regarding these two conflicting approaches. these self-regulatory norms derived from widespread business principles as seen in business school curricula and management journals.’’ The role of this business community has been to develop CSR as a standard for private behavior. 4 2008 CORPORATE GOVERNANCE PAGE 433 j j . 2004). we must bear in mind that CSR as an initiative lies at the heart of the debate on global corporate power today and the emergence of private governance. transparency guidelines. B B B B Businesses have adopted self-regulation practices to implement CSR among their core business functions. social and environmental management systems. and sustainable reporting and monitoring (European Commission. Ruggie. instruments for certification and labeling. Different concepts have converged in the search for interpretations regarding the role of business in the new global society: responsibility. Corporate social responsibility as a voluntary framework The emergence of CSR makes sense in the context of these new demands by civil society on the private sector (Ruggie. Over the last few decades. In response to the pressure from global civil society on corporations over the last fifteen years. Many academic or practitioner definitions summarize the core CSR characteristics. 8 NO. codes of conduct. a noteworthy group of pioneering companies began to consider and integrate the idea that responsible behavior towards society and the environment could lead to mid and long-term economic benefits (Bendell. and beyond philanthropy and community projects. alignment of social and economic responsibilities. based on voluntary compliance and self-regulation (Zadek. however. and the impact of these is increasingly important among all the private sector.. 2004. internalizing or managing externalities that are positive and negative side-effects of economic behavior. best practices. a multiple stakeholder focus. Pioneering companies have established voluntary CSR norms and principles. Companies defending the more classic view were opposed to the development of CSR due to the economic costs allegedly implied in adopting these policies. a particular set of business practices that deal with social and environmental issues and with the set of values that underpins these practices. This approach conflicted with the traditional vision within the private sector that corporate value is based on maximizing economic profit for shareholders (Friedman. At the same time. These mechanisms aim to equip the private sector with tools to control and manage their operations so as to minimize the level of social and environmental risks implied by their activity. 2004).

as each focuses the debate on just one of the fundamental challenges to international society at the dawn of the twenty-first century: how to define the role of the corporation and its contribution to society. The interplay between transnational corporations and civil society organizations has helped to create and institutionalize new expectations concerning the global social and environmental responsibility of firms. response. 1999. Corporate social responsibility and inter-firm cooperation Companies are essential actors in the global political economy: this power has also endowed them with political authority. together with the emergence of world civic politics or global civil society. and it influences social-labor conditions. Business leaders have used different mechanisms to spread new responsible business principles: B B voluntary instruments adopted individually in the market: self-regulation. Scholte. Ruggie (2004) shows how the interface between transnational corporations and private governance. and voluntary instruments adopted collectively through cooperation with other actors: public-private and hybrid partnerships (NGOs. from national to transnational. with local. influenced by pressure from global civil society and. By analyzing the emergence of CSR. the established norms affect the company’s relations with ‘‘social forces’’. It also affects the systems used and the type of raw materials employed. enabling them to regulate economic activities. It is a set of guidelines to manage the social and environmental consequences of economic activities. from other social agents such as NGOs. To exercise this political power in international society. CSR as a voluntary governance framework is the result of the formulation of interests and preferences by some transnational corporations. the development of CSR norms by the company also implies integrating private authorities not only in the economic structure but also in the political and social structures. and action concerning the production of global public goods and involving private as well as public actors. It is an increasingly institutionalized transnational arena of discourse. All these concepts refer to the need for corporations to assume new responsibilities in relation to social and environmental challenges. we can introduce the development of new global governance mechanisms and regulations adopted by the business community as private authorities (Cutler et al. This new domain consists of participation by civil society organizations in world civic politics and private governance among transnational corporations. PAGE 434 CORPORATE GOVERNANCE VOL. 2001). second. companies as private authorities have adopted different mechanisms. The most important of these have been inter-firm cooperative instruments. determining business strategy in concrete areas. 8 NO. however. 1999) (Table I). (1999) have analyzed this new means of exercising private authority by companies and they present different ways companies can exert their authority in the context of contemporary economic policy. trade unions. voluntary instruments adopted collectively through inter-firm cooperation: business organizations. reduces resource and energy consumption. CSR can be seen as a new governance arena (Haufler. B We will first focus on the empirical analysis of inter-firm cooperation and the creation of CSR business associations and. 4 2008 j j . national and international regulation of social and environmental issues and with the political system. In effect.. In addition. international organizations. affecting the organization’s production system and making its structure change from hierarchical to horizontal. to a lesser extent. Corporations have adopted specific self-regulatory measures to make up for some of the deficits generated by globalization in the welfare state system and to progress forward towards new forms of public regulation. Cutler et al. no single concept is self-sufficient. fundamentally through the creation of CSR business associations.sustainability and citizenship. on the analysis of CSR mechanisms created through co-regulation between businesses and their stakeholders. Clearly. governments). have led to the emergence of a new global public domain.

These associations have managed business representation and driven the majority of self-regulating proposals put forward by the private sector. has encouraged companies to collectively pressure international organizations such as the European Union or the United Nations and national governments for these to assume their proposals. Inter-firm cooperation has allowed for consensus on models of action and. The WBCSD has defended a voluntary approach before the United Nations. responsible businesses have created different CSR business associations to develop proposals for common action. without any legal or normative impositions. there are many examples of associations that have had a significant impact. standards and management instruments. Business in the Community. 8 NO. Business for Social Responsability. it has also had an impact at the international level. Due to its innovations. Business in the Community in the UK stands out. At the national level. at the same time. Within these associations. and BSR has done the same with the US government. VOL. 4 2008 CORPORATE GOVERNANCE PAGE 435 j j . Among these. International Business Leaders Forum. Among these we find the most active CSR business associations in the international sphere: World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). CSR Europe.Table I CSR Mechanisms adopted by corporations Mechanisms Self-regulation Initiatives Codes of conduct Reporting activities Environmental. business leaders have been able to debate and reach a consensus on a CSR model based on acceptance by these firms. Caux Round Table. social and sustainable management systems CSR values Certification schemes Labeling schemes Transparency and disclosure guidelines Stakeholder engagement and dialogue Rating agencies Sustainability index WBCSD IBLF Caux Round Table CSR Europe Business for Social Responsibility Forum Empresa Business in the Community Public-private partnership Business and Intergovernmental Organizations UN Global Compact Global Business coalition on HIV/Aids European Alliance for CSR Public-private partnership Business and Non-Governmental Organizations Transfair Rugmark Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Social Accountability International (SAI): SA8000 Standards (Auditing) Global public policy networks Global Reporting Initiative Inter-firm cooperation Co-regulation During the last decade. Forum Empresa. CSR business associations have become the reference point for companies wishing to adopt socially responsible policies and they have also become private sector spokesmen to defend the corporate world’s position in this area before governments and international organizations. Their primary function has been to establish and consolidate CSR private rules. CSR Europe has done the same before the European Commission and individual European governments.

. over the last decade corporations have also adopted various CSR instruments and standards based on diverse collaborative regulatory structures. such as the US. They stem from business initiatives. The emergence of these business-NGO collaborative initiatives has consolidated and been institutionalized over the last few years (Utting. such as WBCSD and CSR Europe. financing and consolidation. self-regulatory approach among the business community including lobbying governments and international organizations to prevent them from developing legislation in this respect. They are financed by company contributions. international organizations. though in many cases they also receive financial support from international organizations such as the European Union or specific governments. In this sense. 4 2008 j j . In other words. human rights. governments. and media to develop uniform reporting standards to assess the environmental and social impact organizations have. 2000). 1999. PAGE 436 CORPORATE GOVERNANCE VOL. One of their primary objectives with respect to companies is to help them adopt CSR policies and strategies based on consensual management instruments. professional associations. also include participation by other actors such as intergovernmental organizations. 1999). they advocate a private. One of their primary objectives is to defend the business community’s power and opinions regarding the impact of implementing CSR policy. from hybrid mechanisms created by civil society organizations and business organizations and. the environment and sustainable development are discussed. the Marine Stewardship Council.All of these inter-firm cooperation associations have a similar profile and several common characteristics: B They are associations consisting primarily of companies and based on inter-firm cooperation. Global public policy networks are alliances between governmental agencies. The emergence of these initiatives has led to the development of corporate participation in global public policy networks or ‘‘GPPN’’ (Detomasi. at times. exchange their concerns and share good practices. They have become spokesmen to defend the business community’s approach to CSR in the important international forums in which topics such as globalization. As such. they have become ‘‘interface organizations’’ between private and public authorities. Braithwaite and Dahos. Global Reporting Initiative is a global public policy network connecting corporations. They have created spaces for debate to reach consensual agreements between members of the business community. 8 NO. Their objective is to exercise power and authority in the international setting with respect to public authorities. and the UN Global Compact. in turn. NGOs. some CSR instruments have moved towards co-regulation spaces that can even imply a multi-stakeholder control over socially responsible business policies and practices. These multistakeholder instruments can be seen as public-private or civic-private co-regulation mechanisms (Cutler et al. professional associations and religious groups working together to achieve what none can accomplish on their own (Reinicke. These stem. Global Reporting Initiative. trade unions. the UNDP. 1998. NGOs and other stakeholders has been one of the most noteworthy developments. corporations. a new set of regulatory institutions now exists which involves multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). civil society organizations and NGOs. The creation of partnership projects between businesses. 2007). Globalization has also transformed the way public policies are developed. various international organizations including the United Nations and the European Union have played an important role in their promotion. Additionally. For example. the Forest Stewardship Council. B B B B B B Corporate social responsibility and co-regulation In addition to these self-regulation instruments. and governmental agencies. 2005). though in some cases.

Multi-stakeholder initiatives help to deal with this communicative framework between corporations and society. 2006. 8 NO. third. The logic of this collaborative governance has been analyzed by Zadek (2006) as a new opportunity to deliver public goods through collaboration (Ruggie. 4 2008 CORPORATE GOVERNANCE PAGE 437 j j . In this last respect. The challenge represented by CSR in the global accountable governance context is that CSR requires a parallel development of public accountability mechanisms for private authorities. At the same time. second. they accept to engage in and discuss standards of expected corporate performance with other stakeholders. For example. Palazzo and Scherer. initiatives such as the UN Global Compact and Global Reporting Initiative are multi-stakeholder partnerships with support from the UN to promote responsible business practices. the most important challenge for the private sector. co-regulation mechanisms are linked to the companies’ ability to administer citizenship rights in global society today (Matten and Crane. international organizations and public administrations. responsible and sustainable conduct in the business sector and to meet the social and environmental challenges created in the globalized economy has evolved into a form of global governance. corporate legitimacy in a global context needs a communicative approach focusing on the role of civic engagement and civic interaction for processes of legitimacy.When corporations accept to participate in these GPPN. the Ethical Trading Initiative aims to encourage compliance with labor standards in business supply chains. participation in co-regulation and enforcement multi-stakeholder initiatives is linked to the new concept of corporate citizenship and the mechanisms through which citizens can participate and even control corporations to ensure that human rights are adequately protected (Matten and Crane. In addition. Co-regulation and multi-stakeholder partnerships reinforce the vision of CSR as a political and governance approach based on democratic mechanisms within business organizations. this can be resolved by developing global governance networks among public and private actors: civil society. The legitimacy of companies as political players derives from their ability to maintain dialogue with and be accountable to their stakeholders. 2006. all in a dialogue with and a commitment to their stakeholders. In this sense. incorporating a commitment among companies to contribute to sustainable development and to respect and support human rights. the power of transnational corporations acting as private authorities and the emergence of global civil society. The institutionalization of GPPN implies different levels of development for these instruments: first. corporate responsibility can transform into corporate accountability (Utting. At the same time. VOL. and. Conclusions It has been shown that CSR has developed as a result of the transformations caused by economic globalization. the future of corporate responsibility currently depends on the integration of corporate legitimacy practices and instruments with respect to society (Zadek. Their aim is to implement monitoring elements for companies to become more accountable. 2005). external enforcement and evaluation mechanisms are particularly needed. In addition. CSR represents a transformation in corporate culture and politics and the merging of corporate citizenship and global governance. the creation of enforcement and evaluation mechanisms. Corporate accountability is based on stakeholder control and enforcement over business practices (Utting. stakeholders need to participate in enforcement mechanisms regarding the companies’ social and environmental practices. 2005). Utting. the development of regulatory frameworks. 2004). The emergence of a growing number of multi-stakeholder partnerships is one of the key elements behind the development of innovative CSR practices. In this case. From this point of view. As Palazzo and Scherer (2006) propose. capable of integrating a new articulation of voluntary initiatives and enforcement mechanisms. changing the CSR business agenda from a voluntary approach to an accountable one. 2005). corporate legitimacy management focuses on the changing role of business in society. the establishment of standards. However. 2005). This initiative to implement ethical. 2005).

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