Corporate Social Responsibility and China? Two concepts at odds, or not?

In her article, Professor Angelica Bonfanti explores how multinational corporations are shaping international law. In doing so, she tackles this broad theme from the perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), in China’s growing and internationally important economic context. The main focus on Chinese model does not prevent the Author from examining wider issues regarding the role of transnational corporations as important international law actors (along States and nations), the concepts of CSR and Corporate Accountability (CA) and their interplays and relationships with Non-Trade Concerns. Interesting observations are made also in relation to Chinese culture . The very first part of this study is concerned with contextualizing the multinational enterprise into the international law framework; in doing so, the Authors considers the de-localization processes of production as a key factor in the growing significance for the international economic order of multinational corporations. One of China’s peculiarities is the importance of State-owned Enterprises , and this raises difficult questions whether and in what ways CSR standards of conduct apply and bind also these important economic entities. Professor Bonfanti then goes on pointing out the historical formation of CSR and CA as the product of the growing awareness of international community of the dangerous effects of economic activity – and in particular their harmful impact on environment and labor rights. She illustrates the main stages and steps of this process and the main legislative (binding) act and soft law instrument that fostered it (such as the Stockholm Declaration, Agenda 21, and the Johannesburg Declaration). What the study most underlies is that while does not exist in international law a treaty specifically regulating multinational corporations’ activities, many other conventions protecting non-trade values do exist, also binding for China, especially in environmental matter. A final emphasis is then put on the Chinese concept of “harmonious society” and its relationship with non-trade concerns. Undoubtedly, China has recently pursued many economic and legislative reforms going in the direction of a more intense protection of rule of law, labor rights, environmental protection and consumer rights . This could serve - in the void of specific international regulations – to implement CSP principles and standards into China’s domestic legal system. In conclusion, this study sheds some lights into a much-debated topic and clarifies many issues for understanding the current economic and legislative reforms in one of the biggest economic players in our world.