Rethinking CSR

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At the last Boréalis Conferences, many argued that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) needs revamping, to go beyond the perspectives of short-sighted management and public relations. They’re not alone: over the last decade, researchers from a variety of backgrounds have tried to “reframe” CSR into a more global approach, by taking into account the sociological dimensions. The book Repenser la responsabilité sociale de l’entreprise, edited by Corinne Gendron and Bernard Girard, echoes this consideration and constitutes a good reference point for what  many people now call the “School of Montreal”. Corinne Gendron, who’s holding the Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development Research Chair of Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), agreed to answer our questions.

Vincent Frigon: What exactly is the School of Montreal?

Corinne Gendron: This term describes a CSR perspective that is mindful of both sociological and institutional dimensions. It distinguishes itself from the traditional model, which was developed mainly in the United States by businessmen and researchers in management and tends to limit CSR phenomenon to volunteer-based business initiatives. The School of Montreal seeks to recognize the momentum generated by other actors, such as civil society, social movements, governments, etc. Our approach tries to demonstrate that the CSR phenomenon is not exclusive to voluntary approaches: it also encompasses mandatory and regulatory dimensions. The book’s objective is to promote the work of researchers involved in this social, open and more dynamic perspective of the CSR.

V.F.: Where does the name come from?

C.G.: The idea came about in Montreal, in 2006, when we organized a workshop with American researchers who pioneered CSR research and French researchers who had an initial interest in this phenomenon. We realized researchers from Quebec were in a good position to bridge the gap between French and American litteratures. We could therefore picture Montreal as a hub for a hybrid approach, combining structural approaches where public actors play an important role and empirical approaches focusing on the actors’ behavior.

V.F.: In your book you talk about the “new social and economic movements” that are forcing businesses to change. What is it exactly?

C.G.: It’s a concept that refers to the way social actors carry out their demands within the globalization context. Before the 60’s, the worker’s movement was addressing its demands directly to the government, so that it could regulate businesses: it was their first mode of action. In the 70’s, social movements continued to make demands to the government to regulate businesses, but also through the whole society, by way of education and public information campaigns. And in the early 90’s, social actors started using their economic status to make social demands, which gave way to the name “new social and economic movements.” Two types of economic status are being used: the shareholder status, in which a person invests in a company that complies with his or her values and allows that person to ask questions at the shareholder’s meetings; and the consumer status, in which a person avoid to buy a product that doesn’t correspond to his or her values (boycott) or, on the contrary, buys a product that corresponds to it (buycott).

Corinne Gendron is holding the Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development Research Chair at UQAM.

Please note that the opinions and ideas expressed in this article are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and ideas of Boréalis.

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