Conceptual framework for understanding the ethical dimensions of corporate social responsibility

José-Carlos García-Rosell, Johanna Moisander, Jukka Mäkinen

Tutkimustuotokset: Kirjoitus kirjassa/raportissa/konferenssijulkaisussaLukuTieteellinenvertaisarvioitu


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)—"the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts on society” (European Commission 2011, 6)—has become a topic of animated discussion and debate among practitioners and academics alike. In most large corporations, CSR has become business as usual with designated CSR executives and strategies, along with specific management systems and practices for dealing with CSR issues, through non-governmental organization (NGO) partnerships and social reporting, for example (Arenas, Lozano, and Albareda 2009; Arnold and Valentin 2013; Banerjee and Bonnefous 2011; Bondy, Moon, and Matten 2012; Schlegelmilch and Pollach 2005). With the increasing public awareness of CSR, scholars have introduced numerous CSR models and frameworks (Maignan, Ferrell, and Ferrell 2005; Maignan and Ferrell 2004; Sethi 1979; Matten and Moon 2008; Perks et al. 2013; Windsor 2006; Öberseder, Schlegelmilch, and Murphy 2013), and a confusing myriad of reporting standards, indexes, and ethical codes has emerged that organizations must conform with when managing their CSR strategies and stakeholder relations (Crane and Matten 2007).

In this paper, we draw from ethical theory (MacIntyre 1984, 1966; Rachels and Rachels 2007; Rawls 1996, 1971; Sen and Williams 1982) to build a conceptual framework that helps managers to understand and evaluate an organization’s ethical stance toward society and the environment, as well as to delineate the social obligations that this stance implies. We argue that corporate responsibility and business-society relations are rather complex ethical and political issues that are open to multiple interpretations and conflicting, possibly incommensurable, demands by different stakeholders. As a result, the discussion and debate on CSR and business-society relations inevitably entail fundamental ethical issues and thus need to be analyzed as a problem of ethical theory. The conceptual framework that we propose is based on the prevalent approaches to normative ethics (i.e., consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics), which inform much of the current discussion on corporate responsibility (Crane and Matten 2007). The term normative is used here in reference to ethical theories that propose or prescribe morally correct ways of acting.

We also briefly illustrate these different ethical stances by discussing the ethical stances of some self-proclaimed ethically oriented brands as they have been represented in the global media. As a basic starting point, we contend that to successfully implement CSR strategies in practice, managers need to view organizations as ethical subjects (Clegg, Kornberger, and Rhodes 2007; Crane and Desmond 2002; Crane, Knights, and Starkey 2008; Matten and Crane 2005) as well as to deliberate on the ethical issues and dilemmas that decisions about CSR involve. Hence, while acknowledging that CSR is a contested issue, we offer our framework as a tool that helps organizations to deliberate on their ethical stance and obligations in society, as well as to establish responsible relationships with their many stakeholders (Maignan and Ferrell 2004; Maignan, Ferrell, and Ferrell 2005).

The framework that we offer helps managers zoom in on the underlying assumptions about morality that underpin different notions of corporate responsibility, thus shedding light on the ethical complexities that arise when business corporations assess their roles and responsibilities with respect to their stakeholders and society. In doing so, the paper thus directs analytical attention to the ethical complexities of CSR. It highlights the importance of identifying the specific values and implicit understandings about ethics that guide and constrain thinking and discussion of CSR and business-society relations.
OtsikkoNew directions in art, fashion, and wine
Alaotsikkosustainability, digitalization and artification
ToimittajatAnnamma Joy
KustantajaLexington books
ISBN (elektroninen)9781666904109
ISBN (painettu)9781666904093
TilaJulkaistu - kesäk. 2023
OKM-julkaisutyyppiA3 Vertaisarvioitu artikkeli kokoomateoksessa


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