Ambiguities in CSR public policies
Since the early 2000s, political systems have gained increasing significance in terms of their role in the (re)production of the intermediary institution of CSR. Concretely, a growing number of national states and intergovernmental bodies from around the globe have formulated public policies that formally aim to promote and shape the CSR behaviour of companies. European countries such as the United Kingdom and France have been forerunners in this emerging policy field, for instance, with the setting up of a British Ministry for CSR in 2000, and the law Nouvelles Régulations Économiques of 2001 which requires companies listed on the CAC40 index to issue a yearly CSR report. Most other members of the European Union have followed this lead, encouraged by a series of European CSR policies and strategy documents, including the Green Paper ‘Promoting a European Framework for Corporate Social Responsibility’ of 2001, the document ‘A Renewed EU Strategy 2011–2014 for Corporate Social Responsibility’ that was released ten years later, and the Directive 2014/95/EU on non-financial reporting. Outside Europe, CSR policies have also spread in most OECD countries, as well as in numerous emerging and developing countries (for example, India, China, Brazil, South Africa, Vietnam, Mexico, Egypt, Mozambique).
As part of a broader trend towards collaborative forms of governance, which rely on issue-centred and efficiency-driven partnerships between public and private actors, these various CSR policies formally aim to engage companies in societal problem-solving. By promoting and structuring CSR among targeted companies, for instance, through norms (for example, laws, guidelines, standards) and the provision of dedicated resources (for example, knowledge platforms, toolkits), governments seek to increase economic responsiveness beyond the level that would be reached if CSR was left to the work of market forces and managerial risk-management.
The driving forces and the impact of this growing ‘government of self-regulation’ are not straightforward, as the position of states vis-à-vis CSR is deeply ambiguous. As emphasized in the first chapter, historically, CSR has been closely associated with voluntarism as an alternative to state intervention. Business ethics was to a large extent about minimizing legally binding regulation of economic activity by putting the virtues of self-regulation forward. Following this lead, the American pioneers of CSR used it as a means to contain state intervention: business corporations, rather than state authorities, were to decide how commercial operations should mind the public interest.