Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Governance, the Contribution of Economic Theory and Related Disciplines

Trento, Italy, July 11-13, 2006

The workshop confirmed that the descriptive and normative analysis of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a bourgeoning topic all over the world not only (and not mainly) in the academia but in the economy itself (multinational firms, business associations, international institutions – ONU, OECD; ILO, UE – , international organisations like the independent bodies of standardisation -e.g. ISO -, NGOs, trade unions, national and local public authorities, etc).

At the same time CSR issues have been, and should become even more, a natural field of interdisciplinary research for economists and scholars in related disciplines. In this area economic theory may prove its relevance also in the design of organisations, institutions, governance and forms that meet social and collective demands. Even though economists have been mainly sceptical about alternative forms of corporate governance proposed on the basis of the joint consideration of efficiency and social justice, nowadays the search for new forms of governance appear to be driven not only by intellectual minorities, but by a relevant part of market agents (socially responsible consumers and investors).

Hence, it was agreed by all the participants that it is time for deeper economic reflections over the relationships amongst CSR and alternative forms of corporate governance. In fact, some scholars have suggested that the concept of CSR should be understood as an extended model of corporate governance, according to which fiduciary duties must be extended from the mono-stakeholder perspective to a multi-stakeholder perspective.
Nevertheless, it was also widely shared the belief that, whatever the role of company laws or contract laws in implementing these new forms of governance, CSR is essentially a matter of voluntarism, that is a matter of social norms and self-regulation, emerging form some convention or implicit social contact and satisfying the requirement of self-enforceability and equilibrium.

In particular this workshop aimed to explore the explicative and normative implications for the general subject concerning “CSR and corporate governance” of recent lines of research in economics like new-institutional theories of the firm, contract theory, information economics, reputation games and evolutionary game theory, social norms theory, non egoistic preference, reciprocity and conformist preference models in behavioural economics, ethics & economics etc., and their possible synergy with the contributions coming form related disciplines like law & economics, strategic management, business ethics, etc.
Summing up the participants agreed that this workshop contributed to the necessary dialogue and cross-fertilization between different disciplines and approaches in order to improve the understanding of the descriptive and normative implications of the relationship between CSR and corporate governance.

The proceedings of the conference will be published in the IEA series of Palgrave.