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Corporate Social Responsibility - South Asia


In the last few decades the role of business in society has undergone a profound transformation driven by advances in information technology and communication, growth in cross-border trade, global capital flows, and the emergence of new constellations of actors (Mayer and Gereffi, 2010; Doh et al., 2010). The business sector has been increasingly required to act in a socially and environmentally responsible manner by contributing to environment protection, human rights, and poverty reduction although non-compliance with national social and environmental laws remains widespread in developing countries (Kolk and van Tulder, 2010, Prieto-Carron et al.). In response to these developments corporate social responsibility (CSR)  has evolved into a global phenomenon spanning both developed and developing economies (Jamali and Mirshak, 2007). Various frameworks for socially and environmentally responsible business such as the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, the Millennium Development Goals, and the UN Global Compact testify to the global dimension of CSR (Lim and Tsutsui, 2012). These are now being matched by the development of similar frameworks in the developing world such as the Indian Ministry of Corporate Affairs National Voluntary Guidelines on Social, Environmental, and Economic Responsibilities of Business (Gulati, 2012).

In the global context of CSR, South Asia  has recently attracted greater interest among business leaders, politicians and academics alike. First, South Asia has become one of the most dynamic and fast-growing regions in the world which many multinational companies consider as an important strategic growth market for their business activities, investing in local production facilities and integrating domestic companies into their value chains. Today, foreign direct investment in South Asia is 200 times higher than in 1990, a time when economic liberalization began in numerous countries throughout the subcontinent (UNCTAD, 2012). In addition, we have witnessed a strong increase of outward foreign direct investment from South Asia with many South Asian multinationals that are now operating on a global scale (Khilji, 2012).

The emerging interest in CSR in the Sub-continent is also based on the unique institutional settings of South Asian countries that tend to differ from those in the West. In fact, institutional context plays a powerful role in the development and implementation of CSR in both developed and developing countries (Campbell, 2007; Jamali and Mirshak, 2007; Matten and Moon, 2008). For example, Western CSR approaches may fail in the South Asian context due to the fact that CSR may be perceived as a form of economic and cultural imperialism by South Asian entrepreneurs (Khan and Lund-Thomsen, 2011). As a consequence, it has been argued that an Asian approach of CSR  needs to be developed if positive social changes and environmental sustainability are to be achieved as a result of business activity in this part of the world (Chapple and Moon, 2007; Fukukawa, 2010).

South Asia has been influenced by the historical legacy of British Imperialism in the Sub-continent. In fact, United India was under the administration of the British East India Company until the first war of independence in 1857 where the country formally came to be governed by the British Crown. However, after the partition of United India in 1947 at the time of independence from Great Britain, the various South Asian nations have developed in different directions. In fact, the divergent development paths of these countries may also – at least to some extent – be an important factor when we seek to understand the diversity of approaches to CSR that we witness in present-day South Asia (Rana, 2012; Zaman et al., 2012). For example, whereas India developed into the world’s largest democracy accompanied with a judicial activism toward CSR, Pakistan is still confronted with its history of failed democratic governments and frequent military take-overs (Sood and Arora, 2006). Nevertheless, Pakistan has seen widespread CSR efforts in complex emergency situations such as large-scale flooding. At the same time, whereas Sri Lanka is often seen as a role model due to its progressive labor laws, Bangladesh is often considered as a prime example of the race to the bottom in the area of labor standards (Ruwanpura and Wrigley, 2011; Tripathi 2013). Finally, an increasing number of business leaders and academics recognize that CSR has to be ingrained in the cultural soil of a nation as socially responsible behaviors are strongly based on religious values, beliefs and philosophies such as Hinduism, Confucianism and Islam (Muniapan, 2014). For example, according to some authors, business may be - from a Vedantic viewpoint - considered as an instrument to create wealth for welfare, to attain socially desirable goals using ethically worthy means, and to form individuals, who carry ethical values and positive impulses into their community – Samasta Jananam sukhino Bhavantu) (maximizing the welfare of the entire population) (Sharma et al., 2009).

In the academic literature, we already have some understanding of CSR in the context of South Asia (Chapple and Moon, 2005, 2007; Mahmood & Khilji, 2013). The emerging literature on CSR  in South Asia provides insights into specific social responsible practices of foreign multinationals as well as local companies and highlights their impact on poverty alleviation (Arora and Kazmi, 2012; Gupta and Khilji, 2013; Mezzadri, 2009; Prahalad, 2006; Schuster and Holtbrügge, 2012; Venn and Berg, 2013), inadequate labor standards (Lund-Thomsen and Nadvi, 2010a, 2010b; Mezzadri, 2012), human rights violations (Gupta et al., 2010), caste-based discrimination (Thorat and Newman, 2007; 2012), the widespread existence of child labor (Crane and Kazmi, 2010), and on the lack of workplace safety in the organized and informal sector (Pingle, 2012). The recent incident in Bangladesh, the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building with more than 1,000 deaths, reminds us of the utmost urgency of this topic (Lund-Thomsen and Lindgreen, 2013). We have since witnessed the formation of The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety a coalition of 26 global apparel companies with the objective to dramatically improve the factory safety conditions in the Bangladeshi garment industry (Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, 2014). This is just one example of the numerous CSR initiatives that are observable at present in South Asian countries.

In the Indian context, Arora and Puranik (2004) showed that CSR initiatives of Indian companies are barely embedded in their core business activities but rather are philanthropic side projects. In Pakistan, recent work has investigated how local collective institutions, such as industry associations, play an important role in framing collective responses to externally generated pressures toward CSR (Lund-Thomsen and Nadvi, 2010a). In addition, Kemp and Vinke (2012) explore the disclosure of policies and activities relating to CSR in the aviation industry in Pakistan and highlight that the Pakistani aviation companies must increase the disclosure of CSR related topics in annual reports in order to meet international requirements. In the context of Sri Lanka, research on CSR has highlighted how country-specific contingencies mediate the impact of ethical labor initiatives on the garment industry (Ruwanpura and Wrigley, 2011; Ruwanpura, 2012; Ruwandpura, 2013).

In Bangladesh, Nielsen (2005) explored the practices against child labor in the garment industry and tackled the question of whether the Harkin Bill and the subsequent threat of boycott led to the desired outcomes. Moreover, Kabeer et al. (2010) highlighted the positive impact of NGOs on various development goals in the absence of an enabling institutional environment in Bangladesh. In Nepal, Biggs and Messerschmidt (2005) explored CSR in the handmade paper industry, highlighting how socially responsible behavior comes from different interrelated sources such as volunteerism, fair trade codes of conduct to which social entrepreneurs adhere, and CSR codes of conduct arising in the private sector. Finally, several special issues on CSR topics in Asia (including South Asia) have been published in a range of journals such as CSR  and the Environment Management, Journal of Corporate Citizenship, Business & Society, and the Asian Business & Management Journal or have been the subject of edited books (Fukukawa, 2010; Kumar, 2012; Low et al., 2014; Nasrullah and Rahim, 2014).

About the South Asian Journal of Global Business Research (SAJGBR)

SAJGBR is multidisciplinary in scope. We accept submissions in any of the business fields—Accounting, Economics, Finance, Management, Marketing and Technology—and are open to other disciplines that enhance understanding of international business activity, including anthropology, political science, psychology and sociology, etc. However, authors must clearly underline how their study relates to the advancement of international business theory and/or practice. We are especially interested in manuscripts that integrate theories and concepts taken from different fields and disciplines.

We aim to publish high quality research articles, policy reviews, book reviews, country/practitioner/personal perspectives, conference reflections and commentaries, which contribute to the scholarly and managerial understanding of contemporary South Asian businesses and diaspora. We encourage authors to study relevance of mainstream theories or practices in their fields of interest, critique and offer fresh insights on South Asian businesses and diaspora, as well contribute to the development of new theories. 

South Asian Journal of Global Business Research is published by Emerald Group Publishing Limited. For more information, please refer to: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/sajgbr.htm

References

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Arora, B., and Puranik, R. (2004), “A review of corporate social responsibility in India”, Development, Vol. 47 No. 3, pp. 93-100.

Biggs, S., and Messerschmidt, D. (2005), “Social responsibility in the growing handmade paper industry of Nepal”, World Development, Vol. 33 No. 11, pp. 1821-1843.

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