UNRISD Deputy Director Peter Utting presented at the “Corporate Social Responsibility in a Globalizing World” conference, at the University of Michigan on 10 September. Organized by the Ross School of Business, the conference examined the workings of global Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) frameworks and how CSR might play out in transnational corporations, particularly those based in the US and Japan.
Utting gave his talk, "Corporate Social Responsibility in Crisis", during the conference’s initial session, which explored the past, present and future of CSR. In his talk, Utting assessed the potential and limits of voluntary CSR initiatives and the private regulation of business as a response to minimizing the negative impacts of corporate activities on people and the environment.
According to Utting, “CSR has raised awareness of the responsibilities of transnational corporations and other enterprises but, while politically strong, this reform agenda is substantively weak”. An emerging “corporate accountability movement” has attempted to address some of the regulatory and developmental limitations of CSR but, as currently constituted, Utting argues it is politically relatively weak. Finally, Utting cautions against making broad generalizations about the substance and trajectory of CSR, as it will be shaped to a large extent by the interplay of three ideological and political currents associated with neoliberalism, embedded liberalism and alter-globalization.
Conference participants included social scientists from US, Canadian and Japanese universities, as well as several UN officials.