CSR in Developing Countries

Corporate Social Responsibility in Developing Countries

Chapter by Wayne Visser

Extract from The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility

The challenge for corporate social responsibility (CSR) in developing countries is framed by a vision that was distilled in 2000 into the Millennium Development Goals—‘a world with less poverty, hunger and disease, greater survival prospects for mothers and their infants, better educated children, equal opportunities for women, and a healthier environment’ (UN, 2006: 3). Unfortunately, these global aspirations remain far from being met in many developing countries today. The question addressed by this chapter, therefore, is: What is the role of business in tackling the critical issues of human development and environmental sustainability in developing countries?

To begin with, it is worth clarifying my use of the terms developing countries and CSR. There is an extensive historical and generally highly critical debate in the development literature about the classification of countries as developed and less developed or developing. Without reviving that debate here, suffice to say that I use developing countries because it is still a popular term used to collectively describe nations that have relatively lower per capita incomes and are relatively less industrialized.

This is consistent with the United Nations Developments Program’s (2006) categorization in its summary statistics on human development and is best represented by theWorld Bank’s classification of lower and middle income countries. It should be noted, however, that the UNDP’s classification of high, medium and low development countries produces a slightly different picture than the World Bank’s list of which countries are developed and developing.

CSR is an equally contested concept (Moon, 2002b). However, for the purposes of this chapter, I use CSR in developing countries to represent ‘the formal and informal ways in which business makes a contribution to improving the governance, social, ethical, labour and environmental conditions of the developing countries in which they operate, while remaining sensitive to prevailing religious, historical and cultural contexts’ (Visser et al., 2007).

The rationale for focusing on CSR in developing countries as distinct from CSR in the developed world is fourfold:

  1. developing countries represent the most rapidly expanding economies, and hence the most lucrative growth markets for business (IMF, 2006);
  2. developing countries are where the social and environmental crises are usually most acutely felt in the world (WRI, 2005; UNDP, 2006);
  3. developing countries are where globalization, economic growth, investment, and business activity are likely to have the most dramatic social and environmental impacts (both positive and negative) (World Bank, 2006); and
  4. developing countries present a distinctive set of CSR agenda challenges which are collectively quite different to those faced in the developed world.

The latter claim is explored further in the sections which follow and is summarized at the end of the chapter. The chapter begins by proposing different ways to categorize the literature on CSR in developing countries. It then reviews the research which has been conducted at a global and regional level, before considering the main CSR drivers in developing countries. Finally, a model of CSR in developing countries is proposed, before concluding with a summary and recommendations for future research …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-world-guide-to-csr”]Page[/button] The World Guide to CSR (book)

Cite this chapter

Visser, W. (2008) Corporate Social Responsibility in Developing Countries, In A. Crane, A. McWilliams, D. Matten, J. Moon & D. Siegel (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 473-479.

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Developing Countries

Developing Countries

Chapter by Wayne Visser

Extract from The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR in developing countries incorporates the formal and informal ways in which business makes a contribution to improving the governance, social, ethical, labour and environmental conditions of the developing countries in which they operate, while remaining sensitive to prevailing religious, historical and cultural contexts.

The category of ‘developing countries’ is used broadly to include countries that have relatively lower per capita incomes and are less industrialised. For a listing of countries that might fall into this grouping, see the World Bank’s classification of lower and middle income countries.

Far from being a unified field, debate on CSR in developing countries is extremely diverse, ranging from optimistic views about the role of business in society to highly critical perspectives. However, there seems to be an emerging consensus that developing countries provide a socio-economic and cultural context for CSR which is, in many ways, different from developed countries.

In particular, CSR in developing countries has the following distinctive characteristics:

  • CSR tends to be less formalised or institutionalised in terms of the CSR benchmarks commonly used in developed countries, i.e. CSR codes, standards, management systems and reports.
  • Where formal CSR is practised, this is usually by large, high profile national and multinational companies, especially those with recognised international brands or those aspiring to global status.
  • Formal CSR codes, standards and guidelines that are most applicable to developing countries tend to be issue specific (e.g. fair trade, supply chain, HIV/AIDS) or sector led (e.g. agriculture, textiles, mining).
  • In developing countries, CSR is most commonly associated with philanthropy or charity, i.e. through corporate social investment in education, health, sports development, the environment and other community services.
  • Making an economic contribution is often seen as the most important and effective way for business to make a social impact, i.e. through investment, job creation, taxes, and technology transfer.
  • Business often finds itself engaged in the provision of social services that would be seen as government’s responsibility in developed countries, e.g. investment in infrastructure, schools, hospitals and housing.
  • The issues being prioritised under the CSR banner are often different in developing countries, e.g. tackling HIV/AIDS, improving working conditions, provision of basic services, supply chain integrity and poverty alleviation.
  • Many of the CSR issues in developing countries present themselves as dilemmas or trade-offs, e.g. development versus environment, job creation versus higher labour standards, strategic philanthropy versus political governance.
  • The spirit and practice of CSR is often strongly resonant with traditional communitarian →values and religious concepts in developing countries, e.g. African humanism (ubuntu) in South Africa, coexistence (kyosei) in Japan and harmonious society (xiaokang) in China.

The drivers for CSR in developing countries include …

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Related pages

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-a-to-z-of-corporate-social-responsibility”]Page[/button] The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility (book)

Cite this chapter

Visser, W. (2007) Developing Countries, In W. Visser, D. Matten, M. Pohl & N. Tolhurst (eds.), The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility, London: Wiley, 154-157.

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Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility:

An Agenda for the Future

Article by Wayne Visser

This article deals with the crucial debate that is beginning to emerge about corporate social responsibility (CSR), which acknowledges that the sophistication of stakeholder challenges and corporate responses has gone up a gear, but questions whether CSR itself is too little too late, or even a red herring.

Developing the Agenda

Geographically, there has been a recent emphasis on the challenges of corporate citizenship in the developing world, including issues of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the “Bottom of the Pyramid” concept about servicing lower income markets, and CSR in the Pacific Rim, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa. We think this focus accurately portrays the current shift in CSR concerns towards the global South, where despite the scale and urgency of development needs, determining the best way for business to respond to poverty remains extremely complex.

Although the Asian tsunami disaster in December 2004 focused attention on humanitarian relief efforts, which many companies contributed to, it is also encouraging to see corporate leaders engaged in a wider discussion about how normal business influences the poor and disadvantaged around the world and what business models could be more supportive of development. However, our analysis is that current debates about the opportunities for corporate contributions to the MDGs often lack a full understanding of processes of “development”.

Much of the profitable business with lower-income markets involves products such as mobile phones, not the provision of basic nutrition, sanitation, education and shelter, so the current expansion of profitable business in the global South does not necessarily imply poverty reduction. In addition, the type of development that is promoted by marketing consumer products to the poor can be questioned, and claims about empowering people by providing means for them to consume cannot be taken at face value. The environmental impacts of changing consumption patterns also need to be looked at, without assuming that such problems will be solved just through technical and financial advancement. And we need to assess, if more foreign companies do come to serve lower income markets, might they not displace local companies and increase the resource drain from local economies?

Exploring Relationships

How large corporations might bring their financial, technical and management resources to help local entrepreneurs improve and scale their businesses, and avoid exploitative local middlemen, is important to explore and will become a significant part of the corporate responsibility agenda. However, exploitative North-South supply chains, tax avoidance, and anti-competitive practices are fairly typical of international corporations, undermining their economic contribution to development. These economic issues have been overlooked by mainstream work on corporate responsibility, and we suggest such economic issues will become more central in future.

From an institutional perspective, various relationships in the CSR debate have been critically examined, especially the status and acceptability of partnerships between business and NGOs on the one hand, and business and the UN on the other. This examination reflects a sharp rise in the demand for organisations to demonstrate their accountability and transparency, not only business, but NGOs and intergovernmental organisations as well. The ethics of institutional engagement is …

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Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/business-frontiers”]Page[/button] Business Frontiers (book)

Cite this article

Adapted from: Visser, W. & Bendell, J. (2005) Introduction. Lifeworth Annual Review of Corporate Responsibility.

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