The business case for regulation of corporate social responsibility and accountability

Jeffrey Unerman, Brendan O'Dwyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper develops an alternative (or supplementary) theoretical justification for the regulation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social and environmental accounting and reporting (SEAR) to the justification contained in the extant academic literature. It does this by demonstrating how, contrary to the dominant business discourse, increased regulation designed to protect the social and environmental interests of a range of stakeholders can also serve to enhance corporate economic performance and shareholder value. The theoretical perspectives developed in this paper are drawn from Beck's and Giddens' theories on reflexive modernity, and indicate that reflexively appropriated knowledge can be a key factor in developing socially constructed understandings of the social and environmental risks to a range of stakeholders inherent in business operations. In situations where voluntary self-regulation of CSR and SEAR has been ineffective in preventing corporate actions and decisions that have resulted in damaging social and environmental consequences, processes of reflexivity can substantially increase public awareness of the level of risk they face from corporate operations. Such increased perceptions of risk can lead to a loss of trust in an individual corporation or a whole industrial sector, and this can be exacerbated where stakeholders begin to actively seek out alternative risk discourses to inform themselves about possible risks of which they were previously unaware. We argue that effective statutory regulation could avoid these outcomes, and the loss of shareholder economic value that can flow from these outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-353
Number of pages22
JournalAccounting Forum
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007


  • Beck
  • Business case for CSR
  • Giddens
  • Reflexive modernity
  • Regulation
  • Risk
  • Shareholder value
  • Trust


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