This post also appeared in CSRWire Talkback.
The thought that culture presents yet another challenge to formulating global best practices of corporate social responsibility is likely to come as an “uh-oh” moment for several CSR practitioners and activists, especially those active at the global/international level. In our quest to hold companies from across the world accountable to a set of basic responsibilities, we may have glossed over some key problems: how to decide which measures to use, actual validity of the chosen standards, preoccupation with outcomes rather than processes, overall lack of regulatory bite, etc. Throw cultural variance into this mix, and you are liable to hear a deafening roar of protests: no more tinkering with ‘best practices’!
Unfortunately, culture does matter, both in terms of deciding what the social role of the organization is in a particular context (and thus, what can be reasonably and realistically expected of companies), and in framing CSR methods and practices herein. For instance, research indicates that in Sweden CSR is framed by the nation’s traditional emphasis on labor welfare and alignment with European Union norms; in Slovenia the erstwhile-Yugoslavia’s liberal and worker-friendly social agenda has meant a more community-oriented CSR reporting style; Australian CSR reports focus on hardcore business parameters like product quality, management and financial performance; Confucian ethics are important among Chinese and East Asian firms while framing CSR policies; in Singapore the city-state’s founding “communitarian” philosophies provide for a strong State role in CSR norms while still emphasizing business autonomy; and in India, Gandhian ethics intermingle with the business case of CSR. There thus appears to be sufficient evidence that CSR norms and expectations are influenced by cultural, global and local factors, significantly queering the pitch for universal ‘best standards’ of CSR.
In this situation, it might be wise to use a trick corporate marketing has already adopted (quite successfully) in the age of global expansion: glocalization. When Disney started its theme park in France, it quickly realized that the traditional American ‘Disneyland experience’ was not attracting Parisian visitors; so they re-invented it as Euro Disney, ushering in several changes to the cuisine, timings, and characters on fare, to appeal to the local audience. McDonalds’ most popular product in Egypt is the McFalafel, not the Big Mac. Several other examples testify to the success of tailor-making global products/services for local audiences, using local raw materials, labor, technology and distribution channels. Arguably, the same model (with suitable tweaks) would be of immense use to CSR practitioners.
While glocalization is largely understood as ‘think global, act local’, there is a lot of potential in thinking locally and acting globally as well.
Ask me about my primer for glocalization and I will post it!
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