Accepted paper:

CSR standards in China: Social upgrading and industrial policy goals in GPNs

Author:

Corinna Braun-Munzinger (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that the emergence of Chinese CSR standards needs to be seen in the wider context of China’s changing industrial policy objectives in GPNs. It shows how the evolution of Chinese CSR standards corresponds to a shift from structural strategic coupling towards functional coupling.

Paper long abstract:

China's rapid growth over the last three decades has been based to a significant extent on exports of cheap, labour-intensive manufactures through global production networks (GPNs). Hence, demands for compliance with social standards from multinational companies and NGOs were initially perceived as a threat to the competitiveness of Chinese suppliers. However, local corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards adopted by Chinese institutions are proliferating, including both general national CSR standards and sector-specific guidelines promoted by industry associations. Hence, promoting social upgrading among Chinese suppliers of garments or electronics has evolved from an issue of concern for anti-sweatshop NGOs in European and American markets into a policy goal supported by official institutions within China. This paper argues that this shift needs to be seen in the wider context of China's changing industrial policy objectives on strategic coupling in GPNs (Coe & Yeung, 2015). Based on a review of literature, policy documents and interviews with CSR experts in China, the paper finds that the evolution of Chinese CSR standards corresponds to a shift from structural strategic coupling towards functional coupling (Coe & Yeung 2015), associated with increased policy attention on enhancing local skills and technology. Taking the case of the textile and apparel sector as an example, the paper illustrates how the adoption of China's first CSR management system has taken place in a context of shifting strategic coupling objectives.

panel P61
Global production networks and the politics and policies of development