What Drives the Business Case for CSR?

Blog by Wayne Visser

Part 10 of 13 in the Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.

One of the ways the business case is determined is that each region, country or community has a different combination of CSR drivers. I will start with the five typical CSR drivers that are local (or internal) drivers, namely pressures from within the country or community.

1. Cultural tradition

In many countries and regions, CSR draws strongly on deep-rooted indigenous cultural traditions of philanthropy, business ethics and community embeddedness. For example, in a survey of over 1,300 small and medium-sized enterprises in Latin America, Antonio Vives found that the region’s religious beliefs are one of the major motivations for CSR. In Asia, a study by scholars Wendy Chapple and Jeremy Moon reached a similar conclusion, namely that ‘CSR does vary considerably among Asian countries but that this variation is not explained by [levels of] development but by factors in the respective national business systems’. And in Africa, I have found that the values-based traditional philosophy of African humanism (ubuntu) is what underpins much of the modern, inclusive approaches to CSR on the continent.

2. Political reform

CSR cannot be divorced from socio-political reform processes, which often drive business behaviour towards integrating social and ethical issues. For example, the political and associated social and economic changes in Latin America since the 1980s, including democratization, liberalization, and privatization, have shifted the role of business towards taking greater responsibility for social and environmental issues. Likewise, more recently, the goal of accession to EU membership has acted as an incentive for many Central and Eastern European countries to focus on CSR, since the latter is acknowledged to represent good practice in the EU.

3. Socio-economic priorities

CSR is typically shaped by local socio-economic priorities. For instance, while poverty alleviation, health-care provision, infrastructure development and education may be high on many developing country agendas, this stands in stark contrast to many Western CSR priorities such as consumer protection, fair trade, green marketing, climate change concerns, or socially responsible investments. Stephen Schmidheiny questions the appropriateness of imported CSR approaches, citing examples from Latin America where pressing issues like poverty and tax avoidance are central to CSR, but often remain left off of international CSR agendas.

4. Governance gaps

CSR is frequently seen as a way to plug the ‘governance gaps’ left by weak, corrupt, or under-resourced governments that fail to adequately provide various social services (housing, roads, electricity, health care, education, etc.). Academics Dirk Matten and Jeremy Moon see this as part of a wider trend in developing countries with weak institutions and poor governance, in which responsibility is often delegated to private actors, be they family, tribe, religion, or increasingly, business. A survey by WBCSD illustrates this: when asked how CSR should be defined, Ghanaians stressed ‘building local capacity’ and ‘filling in when government falls short’ …

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Related websites

 Link CSR International (website)

 Link The Age of Responsibility (book)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2012) What Drives the Business Case for CSR? Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 10 April 2012.

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