Global Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Rights, and the Law: An Interactive Regulatory Perspective on the Voluntary-Mandatory Dichotomy

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been customarily seen as an inherently voluntary corporate endeavour that inhabits the area stretching ‘beyond compliance’ with law. However a growing number of writers and practitioners deem this understanding of CSR inaccurate and unproductive. In this article CSR as ‘beyond compliance’ is questioned from logical, descriptive and normative points of view; once freed from its conceptual straitjacket, CSR research is encouraged to look deeply into the mutual interaction between corporate voluntarism, or CSR, and law. The argument here is that the keyword in regulating CSR is not voluntarism that is naturally pitted against hard law, but discretion; regulating CSR is not about replacing voluntarism with hard law, but about guiding discretion through law which neither overrides it nor leaves it untouched. Leading companies, through their early failures, persistence and learning from mistakes adopt now more participatory approaches to implementing CSR and as a result may generate systemic effects on governance. The milestone in the development of CSR is stakeholders’ participation. A more careful analysis of the mandatory-voluntary controversy does justice to a complex phenomenon (CSR) that is not only a commendable managerial practice but also a significant protection mechanism relevant from a public policy perspective. The focus of the analysis herein is on ‘international’ or ‘global’ CSR, more specifically on that part of CSR that concerns the role of MNEs regarding human rights in developing countries.