Politicising Government Engagement with Corporate Social Responsibility: “CSR” as an Empty Signifier

Anna Zueva, Jenny Fairbrass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Governments are widely viewed by academics and practitioners (and society more generally) as the key societal actors who are capable of compelling businesses to practice corporate social responsibility (CSR). Arguably, such government involvement could be seen as a technocratic device for encouraging ethical business behaviour. In this paper, we offer a more politicised interpretation of government engagement with CSR where “CSR” is not a desired form of business conduct but an element of discourse that governments can deploy in structuring their relationships with other social actors. We build our argument through a historical analysis of government CSR discourse in the Russian Federation. Laclau and Mouffe's (Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics,Verso Books, London, 1985) social theory of hegemony underpins our research. We find that “CSR” in the Russian government’s discourse served to legitimise its power over large businesses. Using this case, we contribute to wider academic debates by providing fresh empirical evidence that allows the development of critical evaluation tools in relation to governments’ engagement with “CSR”. We find that governments are capable of hijacking CSR for their own self-interested gain. We close the paper by reflecting on the merit of exploring the case of the Russian Federation. As a “non-core”, non-western exemplar, it provides a useful “mirror” with which to reflect on the more widely used test-bed of Western industrial democracies when scrutinising CSR. Based on our findings, we invite other scholars to adopt a more critical, politicised stance when researching the role of governments in relation to CSR in other parts of the world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-655
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number4
Early online date6 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


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