Brought out by CIVICUS in time for the Third World Assembly in Manila in September, this book is partly a collection of briefing documents for participants and partly an attempt by CIVICUS to position itself as a competent purveyor of information for all those interested in the development of civil society.
This volume does provide very valuable information, available nowhere else (as far as I know), on the actors in this relatively new sphere of corporate social responsibility. Chapter 3, ‘Mapping Corporate Citizenship: A survey of global, national and local initiatives’, is a veritable atlas in this regard. The book, however, is very honest: it does not assume that the arguments for corporate social responsibility or partnerships between business and civil society are everywhere accepted.
The authors’ own point of view is contained in Chapter 2, where it is stated that ‘there is growing acceptance that companies must play an increasingly active, strategic role in supporting civil society, and it is in their business interest to do so’. The book is clear that civil society organizations (CSOs) are mostly interested in corporations for their money, while corporations are interested in CSOs for the legitimacy they can give them. But the authors clearly believe that mutual partnerships can go much further, with great mutual benefit.
My only criticism is that the book does not deal sufficiently with the deeper problems of corporate behaviour. A growing number of CSOs see the measures put in place by structural adjustment programmes and the World Trade Organization as benefiting corporations at the expense of poor people. Corporate citizenship can then be seen as a hypocritical palliative for problems that corporations have created and from which they benefit. Transfers, for reasons of enlightened self-interest, from the corporate sector to the civil society sector, do not seem to deal with this adequately. NGOs will talk the new talk, but there are many who want a deeper investigation into corporate behaviour.
Richard Holloway is based in Zambia. He is a Senior Associate at Pact, a US NGO which specializes in building the capacity of CSOs. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Promoting Corporate Citizenship: Opportunities for business and civil society engagement by edited by Laurie Regelbrugge CIVICUS $15 (non-members)/ $12 (members)
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