The global spread of corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices is widely explained in institutional-isomorphic terms: Corporations worldwide adopt CSR in reaction to isomorphic pressures exerted on them by a pro-CSR global environment, including normative calls for CSR, activist targeting, civil regulation frameworks, and educational activities. By contrast, this article considers the proactive agency of corporations in CSR diffusion, which is informed by nonmarket strategies that seek to instrumentally reshape the political and social environment of corporations. Applying a “channels-of-diffusion” perspective, we show that in the initial phase of CSR’s transnational diffusion—as exemplified by the cases of Venezuela (1962-1967) and Britain (1977-1981)—CSR traveled through learning exchanges between business elite “exporters” and “importers” whose engagement in diffusion addressed crisis-enhanced political threats and opportunities in the receiving country. The focal agents established national CSR business associations, which disseminated among local corporations CSR practices adapted to confront the challenges at hand. We identify the features of such “business-led cross-national diffusions of CSR”; formulate propositions regarding their conditions, dynamics, and effects; and suggest that further research of this mode of diffusion would advance a more nuanced and balanced understanding of CSR’s globalization.
- corporate social responsibility (CSR)
- global diffusion
- nonmarket strategies