Corporate Social Responsibility, Stakeholder Needs and Sustainable Development- Overcoming Contextual and Regulatory Challenges through the Values Paradigm

Dr. Onyeka K. Osuji
Reader in Law – School of Law – University of Essex – UK


The emergence of sustainable development as a matter of global concern has been complemented by the recognition of the roles of different segments of society in promoting it. As the Sustainable Development Goals 2015 (SDGs) exemplify, corporations and other private stakeholders are increasingly regarded as active partners in the sustainable development agenda. The tools for advancing corporate and stakeholder involvement in sustainable development therefore includes corporate social responsibility (CSR), which was originally conceived as a voluntary management tool.
Four elements of CSR are arguably critical in relation to sustainable development. First, despite its traditional conception, one of the consequences of the growing global influence of CSR is that corporations, especially the large, high profile and consumer-facing ones, realistically do not have the option of ‘doing nothing’ with regards to socio-economic issues such as sustainable development. Second, the stakeholder framework of CSR implicitly acknowledges contextualism while sustainable development, as the SDGs show, also accept contextual priorities. Third, notwithstanding the universalist/internationalist theory, the concept of glocalisation recognises that local and global standards can co-exist in a mutually reinforcing manner. The fourth significant factor is the emergent recognition of CSR as a potential complementary regulatory tool by public and private authorities (Osuji, 2015; Osuji and Obibuaku, 2016). As exemplified by regulatory actions in some jurisdictions, the regulation of CSR enables its application to suit the sustainable development agenda of specific jurisdictional contexts. Overall, orthodox CSR practice seems to have followed a ‘stakeholder needs’ approach which can adapt CSR to promote sustainable development as a voluntary or regulated activity.
Nonetheless, the following questions arise: (1) Are there implications for using the stakeholder needs CSR model in promoting sustainable development in a specific jurisdictional context? (2) Does contextualism allow a ‘values’ approach to CSR even when it is being used as a regulatory tool (3) To what extent can a ‘values’ CSR approach improve or complement the stakeholder needs model in addressing sustainable development in specific jurisdictional contexts?
Drawing on the institutional (including Scott (2001, 2008)) and stakeholder theoretic models, this paper argues that a stakeholder needs CSR model may be inadequate for advancing sustainable development, especially in an emerging country context. The issues this raises include disguised motivations, insufficient clarity of goals, unintended assumption of legal responsibility and covert corruption. An alternative to the stakeholder needs model is the values approach which has sociological and institutional foundations. The paper demonstrates that a values paradigm is feasible and may be an imperative aid for applying the stakeholder needs CSR model to sustainable development. The values paradigm can improve effectiveness of a regulated CSR as a sustainable development promotion and private regulation mechanism.

Keywords: Corporate Social Responsibility; Glocalisation; Institutional Theory; Regulation; Stakeholder; Sustainable Development; Values.

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