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CSR Business as Usual? The Case of the Tobacco Industry

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Abstract

Tobacco companies have started to position themselves as good corporate citizens. The effort towards CSR engagement in the tobacco industry is not only heavily criticized by anti-tobacco NGOs. Some opponents such as the the World Health Organization have even categorically questioned the possibility of social responsibility in the tobacco industry. The paper will demonstrate that the deep distrust towards tobacco companies is linked to the lethal character of their products and the dubious behavior of their representatives in recent decades. As a result, tobacco companies are not in the CSR business in the strict sense. Key aspects of mainstream CSR theory and practice such as corporate philanthropy, stakeholder collaboration, CSR reporting and self-regulation, are demonstrated to be ineffective or even counterproductive in the tobacco industry. Building upon the terminology used in the leadership literature, the paper proposes to differentiate between transactional and transformational CSR arguing that tobacco companies can only operate on a transactional level. As a consequence, corporate responsibility in the tobacco industry is based upon a much thinner approach to CSR and has to be conceptualized with a focus on transactional integrity across the tobacco supply chain.

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Correspondence to Guido Palazzo.

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Guido Palazzo is Assistant Professor for Business Ethics at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). He graduated in Business Administration at the University of Bamberg (Germany) and earned his PhD in Political Philosophy (1999) from the University of Marburg (Germany). His research interests are in Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Branding, Democratic Theory, and Organizational Ethics. Ulf Richter is a doctoral student at the University of Lausanne. He is writing his thesis on Corporate Social Responsibility, conceptualizing the concept from a multidisciplinary perspective. He has studied in Germany, Peru and the US, and graduated from the European Business School, Oestrich-Winkel, majoring in International Management and Real Estate.

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Palazzo, G., Richter, U. CSR Business as Usual? The Case of the Tobacco Industry. J Bus Ethics 61, 387–401 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-005-7444-3

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