Ethics and Economics (II): rethinking corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility has been a key feature of the   reorganization of social interactions in the context of neoliberalism.  It involves the adoption of voluntary global values to create new practices in business culture in order to modify the relationship among corporations, employees, clients, suppliers, communities and governments. As a result, the private business sector could be active in protecting the market society.

Indeed, the debate about the role of corporations in promoting economic and social development through the benefits of new management and social practices was deepened in the context of the crisis of the Welfare State.  The participation of corporations in the solution of social and economic challenges would create new forms of social protection in a globalized market system.  As a result, the provision of basic services of health, education, energy, water, among others, would contemplate diversified arrangements among governments, corporations, the so called non-governmental organizations and the communities.

However, it is a reality that those practices of corporate social responsibility have not overcome the tensions inherent to the organization of market society. While speculative and short-term portfolio decisions predominate in business strategies, practices of social responsibility turn out to support the profit motive, searching for growing efficiency instead of defeating inequalities.

When we analyze the relationship between corporate social responsibility and inequality, the contribution of Karl Polanyi to the analysis of the problem of production and distribution in a market society is inspiring to reflect on the impacts of neoliberal policies on livelihood conditions. In the Great Transformation, Polanyi highlighted the critique of the liberal myth and the challenges to social justice, showing that the dehumanization of capitalism is a result of the particular institutional set up of the market society. Taking into account the historical and institutional analysis of capitalism enhanced by Polanyi, an outstanding idea to consider, in any ethically defensible approach to inequality, is that the institutional patterns adjust perfectly to the principles of behavior in society.



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