Helsinki becomes a leader in the field of research on political Corporate Social Responsibility

nikodemus-solitanderHanken School of Economics and University of Helsinki announced the foundation of a joint research and development institute , the Centre for Corporate Responsibility (CCR) is to enhance collaborative and cross-disciplinary research on the interactions between business, politics and society. CCR also promotes socially, economically and environmentally sustainable development of Finnish businesses through high-quality research in close cooperation with firms, non-governmental organisations, and research institutions.

It is an important and needed initiative, as the last decades have proven that business without ethics is a danger for our society and our environment. Corporate social responsibility, which is the topic of the research, often abbreviated “CSR,” is a corporation’s  initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the company’s effects on environmental and social wellbeing. The term generally applies to efforts that go beyond what may be required by regulators or environmental protection groups. CSR may also be referred to as “corporate citizenship” and can involve incurring short-term costs that do not provide an immediate financial benefit to the company, but instead promote positive social and environmental change.

One other important concept is the Social License to Operate, which is defined as existing when a project has the ongoing approval within the community and other stakeholders, ongoing approval or broad social acceptance and, most frequently, as ongoing acceptance.

We have interviewed Nikodemus Solitander, Director of CCR (photo), in order to know more about the meaning of this initiative.


Why this Centre?

This started, in a sense, as an informal network between researchers in Helsinki at large, not only at the University of Helsinki and Hanken, but also with other researchers who were very interested in the intersection between business and politics, about the politics in corporate social responsibility, and about the firm as a political actor, in a sense, which traditionally has been in the margins of the studies of management and also largely absent from CSR research and CSR theory at large. So, the idea is really to put the political aspects back into the equation about CSR as a corporate practice, but also in terms of research.

Why is it happening now, in 2016?

Well, of course, we would have liked it to happen once we started the discussions about establishing the Center, which have been ongoing for almost ten years. But of course, you can see that there is political traction, in a sense, on these kinds of projects. There are several aspects that I can mention. Just, of course, on a university basis, there is a strategic interest for more cross-institutional cooperation, so that we can synergize and be effective in how we use our own resources while being still independent. So, that is one thing.

But of course, if we look at the question of politics in relation to CSR, why does it manifest itself more clearly now? Of course, it is connected to various big scandals, exactly as was mentioned in the recent Parliament debate, when it was discussed that the whole idea of the social license to operate is at the core of some kind of capitalistic idea of how responsibility or accountability functions. But there is a political question: it is not possible anymore to hide the question of the accountability of the companies, when you have seen during the financial crisis that is has been impossible to hold the big banks accountable because they were “too big to fail”. Our research on these topics is necessary; because if social license is not revoked from these kinds of actors, we clearly have a very dubious view on ethics and their corporate responsibility at large. If that license was not revoked, is there any circumstance where the social license of corporations would actually, even in theory, be revoked? These kinds of questions are now surfacing and getting traction, also, at large.

And the third thing is that CSR largely functions on the idea of consensus. And of course, then the question becomes, “How is consensus established, and by whom?” These notable issues are things that are, in general, very corporate-led activities with the corporations in the middle, them deciding, in a sense, which voices are heard, which voices are not heard, which voices are marginalized, and so forth.

So, in essence, I think there are many, many things that are happening at the same time, and they are just convergent to a certain extent. This is what we are working on: what are the mechanisms?

What are going to be the first topics which are going to be addressed by the centre?

We are not going to hierarchically impose any particular topic. The Center is more like a platform for research collaboration, we try, in a sense, to provide a stimulating platform for researchers to have discussions on the topics I just described, and there are many, many cases when it will be useful.

Would you say that Helsinki is one of the leading places in the world for CSR research?

Well, I don’t know. For CSR research, probably not. But at least in the Helsinki region, you have many researchers who are particularly interested in the political aspects of CSR, so putting politics back into political CSR, in a sense. So, I can say, on record, that political CSR and CSR politics is something that defines many researchers in the Helsinki region, and it is quite unique.

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