Ethical Performance
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review

Corporate social responsibility and the shaping of global public policy

October 2007

Matthew J. Hirschland
Hardback. 202 pages. Palgrave Macmillan. £42.50/$69.95

Companies and civil society are increasingly assuming the role of responsible governments to protect the vulnerable, look after the environment and defend human rights. This important book, written by Matthew Hirschland during his time at the US-based membership body Business for Social Responsibility, where he was a director, examines the success of these voluntary efforts at filling this ‘governance gap’.

The author, who now works for McKinsey, briefly reviews corporate social responsibility’s rise before moving on to focus on three examples. These are the heart of the book and its real strength: socially responsible investment practice, partnerships between companies, non-governmental organizations and governments, and ethical supply chain management are all covered in detail. Chapter six, which is on the SA8000 workplace standard administered by Social Accountability International, is particularly revealing.

CSR, says Hirschland, is simply not up to the job. A patchwork of well-intentioned initiatives can never replace government efforts. Civil society lacks resources and any means of enforcement. Too often CSR initiatives resemble ‘black boxes’ where only a handful of insiders are in a position to judge success. ‘Private and voluntary networks’, he concludes, ‘are a necessary but insufficient response to providing public goods and protection in the face of dynamic global markets.’ Companies and NGOs alike need to work together more closely with governments.

Alistair Townley




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