A cultural political economy of Corporate Social Responsibility

The language of ‘stakeholders’ and the politics of new ethicalism

Authored by: Ngai-Ling Sum

The Routledge Handbook of Language and Politics

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138779167
eBook ISBN: 9781315183718
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter presents a cultural political economy (CPE) approach to the discourses and practices of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the context of global neo-liberal capitalism. It has four parts. The first briefly explains the main features of the CPE approach. The second examines the changing nature of global capitalism with special reference to the rise of global production-retail chains, such as Wal-Mart. The term ‘Wal-Martisation’ is introduced to capture the changing social relations between retailers, suppliers and labour along these chains. As these extended into developing countries, there was mounting criticism of their impact on local labour and environmental conditions. This is evident in growing demands for more corporate responsibility reflected in the rise of consumer activism, local protests and non-governmental organisation (NGO) name-and-shame activities. Part three examines corporate responses to such criticisms. It focuses on attempts to reinvent corporate relations with society by promoting a business case for Corporate Social Responsibility. This is reflected in the institutionalisation of codes of conduct and then the ‘stakeholder-engagement’ discourses and practices. Part four investigates how ‘stakeholders’ are constructed as objects of governance and illustrates this from two cases. These show how stakeholder-engagement discourses and practices are managerialised and technicalised through the UN Global Compact and World Bank Stakeholder Analysis methodology. The cases indicate how CSR involves a ‘new ethicalism’ that is continuously resisted by civic activism. The chapter ends with some theoretical and empirical remarks on CPE's contribution to understanding language and politics.

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