The Macro/Social Economics of Corporate Social Responsibility: Informational Abundance and Collective Action
Working Paper No. 2007-22. 31 pages. In the past 15 years, the idea of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) has become an important part of contemporary business life. This paper looks at CSR through a social-economics lens, examining the role of broadly-held social values in shaping its objectives, identifying the sources of market pressures on firms to bring their operations into better conformity with these values, and examining how these pressures work in practice through a case study of the “No Dirty Gold” campaign. It is argued that an important part of the effectiveness of CSR rests in informational abundance: because information and communication technologies like the internet make it much easier to publicize ethically problematic behavior by firms, it is much easier to get mainstream consumers and investors (whose behavior is not systematically shaped by ethical concerns) to participate in efforts to sanction them. The case study points to both the promise and the limitations of relying on CSR to improve the social responsibility of the profit system.