, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 185-204
Date: 13 Nov 2012

Molding the nascent corporate social responsibility agenda in Singapore: of pragmatism, soft regulation, and the economic imperative

Abstract

This paper seeks to examine the putative growth of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Singapore. A key impetus for the nascent CSR movement in twenty-first century Singapore is the economic imperative. As a trade-dependent industrializing economy, the economic development drive coupled with the need for international expansion has made it necessary for Singapore businesses to be cognizant of the growing CSR movement in the western, industrialized world. The government supports the CSR endeavour with an instrumental bent, where CSR ideas and concepts are adapted, incorporated, and promoted in various sectors of the economy. This paper assesses the state’s active encouragement of CSR in various facets of economic life in Singapore. The government sees itself as a promoter and practitioner of CSR. For instance, Singapore’s unique tripartite labor relations have recently emphasized a CSR gloss while CSR is also touted as being beneficial for corporate governance as well as improving the competitiveness of companies and improving the quality of life. However, CSR is too often seen as another form of corporate governance. This paper argues that the CSR drive in Singapore coheres with the government’s pragmatic approach to governance broadly conceived. There are many intrinsic and tangible benefits in the government being seen as an active promoter of CSR in various facets of Singapore life. The close association with the various concerns of CSR ensures that the government is seen to be involved in issues, such as environmentalism, work–life balance, anti-corruption, and philanthropy, that concern and appeal to the younger generation of Singaporeans. The CSR endorsement by the state, while not taking a legislative framework and still very much a private sector-driven initiative, is in accord with Singapore’s political and cultural values where the promotion of social responsibility (individual and group), harmony, cohesion, and stability in a multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-lingual society are very much valued. In studying the putative CSR movement in Singapore, a sense of the values that the state, in partnership with the business world, hopes to inculcate would be evident.