Accepted Paper:

CSR as soft regulation: perspectives of using CSR to improve work environment in small companies  


Dorte Boesby Dahl (National Research Centre for the Working Environment)
Anne K. Roepstorff (Copenhagen Business School)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how a specific policy-area, namely Occupational Health and Safety or Work Environment, uses hard and soft regulation to improve employee-conditions. We discuss whether and how the use of hard and soft law is influenced by trends in governing and differentiated according to which subfields of work environment are targeted. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a type of soft regulation that also covers issues of Occupational Health and Safety, and we discuss how principles of CSR is used in policies of work environment.

Paper long abstract:

In Denmark issues concerning occupational health and safety have traditionally been regulated and monitored by legislation, certificates, reports and collective bargaining. Work environment in small companies is hard to reach by these traditional types of regulation and certain aspects of work are difficult to cover - for example psycho-social aspects of work. We regard CSR as a type of soft regulation and examine how CSR enters small firms' work environment policies. Our paper is based on interviews in 21 small Danish companies, 3 larger companies and with 7 CSR-experts.

Until recently, the CSR-debate has almost exclusively focused on big companies. Small companies have only recently caught attention in the CSR-debate. Small companies are motivated by their stakeholders to work more strategically with CSR: E.g. many branches in Denmark currently experience a shortage of labour which makes the need for recruitment and retention an argument for engaging in CSR activities focusing on employees. Furthermore, big companies increasingly require their suppliers to meet certain social and environmental demands. The influences from various parties contribute to the formation and fabrication of CSR in small companies.

We shall ask: How a soft law practice as CSR enters the arena of smaller companies, who strive to improve their work environment? Do the principles of CSR offer a possibility to improve work environment in small Danish companies? What kind of impact has the introduction of such a soft law on the working conditions? And where is CSR relevant and where does it meet its limits?

Panel W021
'Soft law' practices, anthropologists and legal scholars