Scholars studying the global diffusion of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) practices and the associated rise of privatized forms of economic governance have tended to shift attention away from the role of corporations in motivating these processes to the one played by nonbusiness forces seeking social control of corporations. We bring corporate power back in by turning the spotlight to the agency of business classes, the business entities capable of pursuing transcorporate, societal-level, macro-political endeavors. Building on a comparative investigation of two of the world’s earliest mass CSR adoptions, in postwar Venezuela and Britain, we argue that business classes responding to anti-capitalist challenges were the original diffusers of CSR practices and, interrelatedly, promoters of CSR-based, privatized forms of regulation and governance. Organized by peak business associations, the purpose of these “business-class CSR mobilizations” was to weaken the state in its relation to corporations and increase the control of business over social trends. We discuss the contribution of our historical perspective and analytical approach to a more complete and balanced picture of the global rise of CSR in late capitalism.
- Business class
- Corporate social responsibility