Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Western and Chinese Perspectives of Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”)

In early November I was asked by Professor He Zhiyi, the Director of the Management Case Center of Peking University, to prepare and present a paper entitled: "Western and Chinese Perspectives of Corporate Social Responsibility" at the Global CEO Forum in Beijing on November 15 and 16, 2008.

While researching and preparing the paper, I came to believe the concept of social responsibility, which has many contemporary definitions but is most often considered to be responsible business behavior, was historically founded in Chinese cultural and currently accepted more by the Chinese government than Western governments.

My attendance at the conference validated this belief. All of the speakers representing the government emphasized the Chinese government's commitment to the concept, codified in Chapter 1, Article 5 of the Company Law of the People's Republic of China. This concept mandates that a company shall not only comply with the laws and the obligations of business and social morality but shall also bear social responsibility as well.

Cheng Siwei, a UCLA alumnus, the Chairman of the organizing Committee for the conference, and the Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress gave the welcoming address. While recognizing the current global economic crisis, which he defined as a crisis of confidence in Western governments and financial systems, he stated long term climate change is more important to the world than the current crisis. He closed his comments by saying we only have one earth and we need to protect it together.

While it is easy to be skeptical of statements made by representatives of “beautiful laws" passed by the Chinese government, my attendance at the conference convinced me that both the government of China and the major multinational corporations from China, influenced by the recent earthquake and its effect on Chinese society, are serious about implementing corporate social responsibility in China.

Unfortunately, the event was not as well attended as expected due to the current economic crisis. The chief executive officers of multinational corporations need to diligently attend to their corporate affairs and the heads of both the Chinese and Western governments were attending the G20 summit in Washington hastily convened by President Bush.

Notwithstanding the absence of a strong Western presence at the forum, it was worth attending and definitely confirmed my belief that the government of China, at all levels, realize that the future of sustainable development in China and the world requires recognition and implementation of responsible business behavior emphasizing people, the planet and profits.

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