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Corporate social responsibility and conflicts of interest in the alcohol and gambling industries: a post-political discourse?

Baumberg Geiger, Ben, Cuzzocrea, Valentina (2017) Corporate social responsibility and conflicts of interest in the alcohol and gambling industries: a post-political discourse? British Journal of Sociology, 68 (2). pp. 254-272. ISSN 0007-1315. (doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12249) (KAR id:62245)

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The corporate pursuit of social goals – known as Corporate Social Responsibility or ‘CSR’ – has been subject to critique on a number of grounds. However, a hitherto underexplored potential consequence of CSR has been suggested in a recent paper by C. Garsten and K. Jacobsson (‘Post-Political Regulation: Soft Power and Post-political Visions in Global Governance’ (2013), Critical Sociology 39: 421–37). They suggest that CSR is part of an international trend towards ‘post-political’ governance discourses, where an emphasis on different actors’ common goals obscures conflicts of interest, subverting the open political conflict necessary for a well-functioning democracy. This paper examines whether such post-political discourses – including an outright denial of conflict of interest – can be found within the alcohol and gambling industries, where conflicts of interest are likely to be particularly acute given the addictive nature of the goods/services in question. Based on interviews with CSR professionals in these industries in Italy, the UK, and at EU-level, we do indeed find evidence of a post-political discourse. In these discourses, alcohol/gambling industry staff deny potential conflicts of interest on the basis that any small benefits from sales to a small number of addicts are seen to be outweighed by the reputational damage that addicts cause. Crucially, however, this coexists with another, less post-political discourse, where addictions CSR professionals emphasize ‘common ground’ as a basis for CSR, while accepting some instances of possible conflict of interest. Here interviewees make considerable efforts to differentiate good (sustainable) from bad (short-term) self-interest in order to stress the genuineness of their own actions. We conclude the paper by considering whether CSR embedded within a ‘common ground’ discourse still hides conflicts of interests and subverts democratic debate, or overcomes the problems identified by Garsten and Jacobsson.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/1468-4446.12249
Uncontrolled keywords: Conflict of interest; CSR; post-political governance; alcohol; gambling
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Benjamin Geiger
Date Deposited: 11 Jul 2017 09:20 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:46 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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