Volume 35

Modern Anti-Capitalist Thought in Corporate Social Responsibility

by Grace Mayes Schieffer

Throughout the last few decades, and particularly after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, the eyes of the world have been on the corporate sector and the ethical guidelines that it follows, particularly in terms of corporate governance. Corporate governance schemes determine how companies are directed and determine how each board of directors sets the values and goals of the company. While distinct from day-to-day operations, corporate governance sets the tone for the corporation. The rise of two major movements nearly coincide with each other: the focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) as part of corporate governance and the anti-capitalist movement. The legal field is not immune to these movements, and attorneys who work with corporations may find themselves at a crossroads between the two. When faced with corporate governance decisions that will impact a corporation’s CSR standards, attorneys should assess their views on capitalism and the anti-capitalist movement to best serve their clients or employers, as well as advancing social good and protecting the consumer.

CSR is “about developing a strong company culture that empowers employees to do social good and embrace diversity by being kind and open-minded.” It is a set of internal procedures: “[W]hereby commercial entities deploy social and environmental policies that go beyond their formal legal duties and potentially beyond their goal of maximizing profits for shareholders . . . . In this respect, CSR is at once a field of action that presumably exists outside law and a terrain constitutive of new types of legality.” Because CSR exists outside law and is concerned with the social good, it must holistically consider all facets of the corporation and the societal culture and trends the corporation is adapting to.

As corporations continue to refocus on CSR to benefit both the corporation’s finances as well as public image and impact, more and more attorneys will face the dilemma of determining what actions will best serve both the corporation and the public. An attorney’s decision-making should be grounded in a consistent ideological and ethical foundation influenced by philosophers and political economists.

Anti-capitalist thought is a direct rejection of and response to the profit-driven focus of capitalism. Anti-capitalism is more concerned with promoting the social good for all, and this shift in priorities is reflected in modern times, particularly with younger people. Particularly in light of the younger generation’s gravitation toward anti-capitalism, this Note proposes anti-capitalism as the attorney’s decision-making foundation.

This Note will present the landscape of capitalist and anti-capitalist philosophy, as well as a broader analysis of the modern political economy of anti-capitalism, to aid in informing attorneys about how an anti-capitalist philosophical foundation would positively impact the development and implementation of CSR standards. Part I elaborates on a few examples of failures of modern capitalism. Part II explains the foundations as to why modern capitalism cannot sustain itself as it is and how CSR may serve as a solution to this issue. Part III provides the context for this Note by laying out a broad philosophical, political, and economic overview of anti-capitalism and will put forward the tie between anti-capitalism and the corporate legal field and why it matters for CSR. Part IV proposes solutions for situations that corporate social responsibility officers and corporate lawyers may find themselves in when creating and implementing CSR standards to best serve the corporation as informed by anti-capitalism, while also respecting the Model Rules of Professional Conduct

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