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Although the responsibility and role of business within society have evolved over the past two decades, they remain issues that retain conceptual dimensions. This means that instead of consensus over form and function, both are surrounded by a persistent cloud of disagreement and confusion. Too many people remain unsure about what they represent, the importance they play and the impact they have (or should have) on business as well as society. For one thing, different interpretations of what defines business responsibility to society exist. These range from concern over business’ environmental impact and contribution to climate change, to sustainability practices, to labour practices, to fair trade. All fall under the catch-all Corporate Social Responsibility umbrella. Not surprisingly, the term or more accurately its acronym—CSR—has become a lightning rod for a range of emotional and factious debates that cross different communities around the world. Nevertheless, an overwhelming net consensus is emerging: the agreement that business does need to play a prominent role in improving society. Business decision makers who fail to keep up with developments or misinterpret directional trends run the risk of either alienating their evolving customer franchises or marginalizing their companies in an equally evolving market place.

In Asia, the issues are more contentious and the stakes are arguably even higher. On the one hand, there is increasing Western criticism that Asia’s ascent is taking place in the absence of responsible management practices. Predictably, apart from indignation, the official reaction from countries like India and China is that this sort of accusation is both arrogant and self-serving. For much of the past century, they argue, both Europe and America enjoyed the fruits of industrialization (creating, in the process, much of the present environmental damage). To these individuals, criticism of Asian business practices during its “turn” for growth and development smacks of hypocrisy and double standards. On the other hand, there exists nonetheless a general realization that no amount of rationalization or circumstantial justification mitigates the reality that environmental degradation and non-sustainable policies are, ultimately, going to harm Asian countries and Asian businesses as much as those in the West.

In this paper, my goal will be to explain two separate but very connected phenomena: (a) an emerging reality: the responsibility and role of business within society, and (b) a hypothetical opportunity: how Chinese companies will disproportionately benefit from the implementation of genuine CSR driven enlightened policies. I plan to argue how both will combine to transform what is arguably one of China’s most pressing liabilities: negative Made in China brand associations.


Business Law, Public Responsibility, and Ethics | Organizational Behavior and Theory

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Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources

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This paper was the winner of the SMU Ron Frank Fellowship for the Executive MBA Programme.