Corporate social responsibility - The business case and self-regulation: Do they really work in achieving workplace safety?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Susan Hart
Memorial University

The political shift towards an economic liberalism in many developed market economies, emphasizing the importance of the marketplace rather than government intervention in the economy and society, has featured a prominent discourse focused on the need for business flexibility and competitiveness in a global economy. Alongside these developments has been an increasing pressure for corporate social responsibility (CSR). The business case for CSR – that corporations would benefit from voluntarily being socially responsible – was promoted by many governments and corporations as part of the justification for increasing self-regulation in public policy.

This presentation examines more closely the proposition that the business case and self-regulatory frameworks work in achieving workplace safety. It is argued that major flaws exist in the business case deriving from its salience and instrumentality, linked with the nature and priorities of cost-benefit analysis in a global market economy. Moreover, the current predominant management discourse and practice focusing on safety management systems (OHSMS) resonate well with a government and corporate preference for the business case and self regulation. But the centrality of individual rather than organizational factors in OHSMS means that inherent workplace hazards and collective, union-safety representation are downplayed, making it less likely that employers will tackle the more difficult and costly remedies needed for substantial and long term improvement. If it is used at all, the business case must be supplemented by strong legislation and worker/union co-determination.