China Development Brief no 57 (Spring 2013
The Past and Present of Corporate Social Responsibility
In the late 19th century, enterprises began to grow in China. At that time, in the West, an economic landscape dominated by large corporations began to take shape. On the one hand, these enterprises rapidly expanded to such size and influence that they were able to contend with the “minimal state” as a player in the social sector. Through means of exploitation and monopolization, they began to exert a negative influence on society. On the other hand, as corporate ownership and management rights diverged, captalists relinquished control of day-to-day operations to managers motivated by short-term performance who likely overlooked the long-term sustainability and profitability of the enterprise.
Meanwhile, driven by vested interest groups with specific social ideals, philanthropy began to establish a social presence outside the spheres of the government and corporation – perhaps taking on the role the two failed to fulfill – with a focus on identifying and solving social problems. Aristocrats aside, most of these vested interest groups consisted of emerging entrepreneurs.
The development of “Corporate Social Responsibility”
From the labor and human rights issues of the early 20th century, to the later environmental and consumer rights movements, and finally to the green production and sustainability revolution, every century-old “great” corporation has witnessed its share of challenges and opportunities. Restaurant chains like McDonald’s have faced appeals to take accountability for many public health crises, including heart diseases, potentially caused by their fatty foods; clothing brands like Nike and Levi-Strauss have been caught in sweatshop scandals; large-scale retailers such as Walmart have faced criticism for the poor treatment of their employees; Starbucks, a keen promoter of coffee and community culture, received heavy criticism for its exploitation of coffee farmers; energy companies, with ExxonMobil at the forefront, have likewise become the target of criticism by environmental groups. The successes of these corporations came with profound impacts on society, impacts that garnered more attention, and in turn created demands for corporations that went above and beyond generating profit. Their failure to meet these expectations brought about pressure from consumers, the media, social organizations, legislative bodies, and even government. This not only pressed corporations to reshape their public image, but also started various sectors of society thinking about the kinds of social responsibility that corporations should shoulder.
Discussions surrounding corporate social responsibility have always been at the peripherals of academia, whose core is made up of debate about free markets and government regulations, scholars researching this field tend to get caught up in the relationship between corporate social responsibility and business performance. However, the above corporations have survived these crises, and many of them have now become forerunners in areas such as consumer rights, workplace conditions, labor treatment, and supply chain and environmental protection, or simply forced specific industries and enterprises to face these issues throughout their operation. Corporate social responsibility has more or less become an external force in the West, making it almost impossible for companies to seek profit as their sole purpose.
The influence of public incidents lead to the establishment of industry codes of conduct, determination of national and local legislation, as well as international practices. These range from the successive introduction of related legislature in various countries throughout the 20th century, to the implementation of various international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ILO Conventions, the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Millennium Development Goals. This influence is also seen in the establishment of Social Accountability International (SAI) in the late 20th century and the setting of international standards in specific areas of labor and the environment by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), as well as the appearance in the early 21st century of a more comprehensive framework for corporate social responsibility.1
1978, China enters the inaugural year of “Reform and Opening Up”
The policy of “Internal Reform and External Opening Up” attempted to establish a markedly “Chinese-style” market economy. At the beginning of the reform era, the Pearl River Delta became the vanguard force of China’s economic development. It was during this era that the greatest entrepreneurs of contemporary China began their primitive accumulation of capital. Meanwhile, foreign capital from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the West came in by way of growing labor-intensive industries, making China into yet another “world factory”. China was just beginning a transition from planned to market economy, encouraging private accumulations of capital, attracting foreign capital inflows, and embarking on the quest for a “Chinese-style” market economy.
Mirroring the flow of capital was a flow of labor. Towards the end of the 20th century, a “Migrant Workers Boom” swept across urban and rural China largely contributing to the appearance of many “Chinese-style” social phenomena that are still visible today. However, the ZhiLi Toy Factory blaze in the Pearl River Delta’s Shenzhen Special Economic Zone put a damper on the growing excitement. The Shenzhen Kui Yong Zhi Li (葵涌致丽) Craft Products Factory, a Hong Kong enterprise subsidiary, mainly produced OEM2 toys for foreign brands. Built in 1989, the factory was host to the blaze that occurred on November 19th 1993, killing 87 out of the 400 working staff and shocking the nation. The central government deployed an investigation team while Shenzhen authorities set up an incident task force, and this fire directly hastened the passing of post-1949 China’s first Labor Law in 1994.
The Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests, which came out a year before the Labor Law, also had an inside story. Aside from the lack of legal protection on product quality, the public faced major conflict between understanding and asserting their legal rights and their lack of historical backing as consumers. Twenty years earlier, when supermarkets were still a novelty, at almost every supermarket entrance hung a sign that read “we reserve the right to search customers’ bags”. On December 23rd, 1991, two sisters shopping at the Beijing International Trade Building’s Welcome Supermarket were body-searched without reason. They tried to sue the supermarket for infringement of rights, but had no case.
In 1971, a few years prior to the reform era, the PRC recovered its seat in the United Nations. The following year, China participated in the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, indicating the start of its “Environmental Diplomacy”. Subsequently, in the 80s and 90s, environmentalism gained traction in China. However, the consequences of environmental pollution are often apparent only with the passage of time, and the tragedies of child lead poisoning and cancer villages were not enough to drive the message home. That is until the 2005 Songhua River pollution incident sparked nation-wide awareness about environmental protection. On November 13th, a Jilin Petrochemical Company benzene plant exploded, depositing about 100 tons of benzene substances (benzene, nitrobenzene, etc.) into the Songhua River, causing serious pollution to the river and affecting the lives of millions of people living along it. The head of the National Environmental Protection Agency resigned, and the incident became a historical endorsement for the environmentally friendly society proposed in the government’s eleventh Five-Year Plan. When Xiamen city secured an investment of 10.8 billion yuan for a paraxylene chemical project (commonly known as a PX project) in 2006, all sectors of society boycotted the project, signaling an important turning point in the large-scale participation of the Chinese public in environmental protection.
Through incidents like these, the contradictions brought about by social development gradually became obvious, and behind them, the companies’ blind pursuit of financial gain.
Companies soon discovered a way to compensate for the negative externalities that came with business operation through a different approach. In 1989, “Project Hope” was launched across the country and gained much traction. The big-eyed girl in the “I want to go to school” picture became the image of public welfare for a long time afterwards, and under this image sprung up many “Hope Primary Schools” built with donations from corporations. The 2008 and 2010 earthquakes in Wenchuan and Yushu gave opportunities for Chinese corporations to invest in the public interest sector and find a “reason for living”, and to build on subsequent brand desirability gained from doing so. In recent years, the establishment of private foundations by enterprises in response to State promotion of public welfare became a trend within the public sphere. All these demands, colliding in every corner of Chinese society, await further response.
Top-down forced birth of the “Chinese characteristics”
When appeals are still largely based on incidents themselves and are unable to incite thinking about the social role of enterprises behind them, and where there is a lack of systematic exploration of what social responsibilities corporations have and how they should carry them out, China’s social development seems to have found ready-made solutions in its western counterparts.
In 2006, the State Grid Corporation of China (国家电网公司SGCC) issued its first report on corporate social responsibility. In the same year, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange issued the “CSR Guidelines for Listed Companies” to encourage listed companies to use this as a basis to publish their own CSR reports. From then, amidst rounds of report releases, the introduction of guidelines by the Stock Exchange, the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) and other government-backed organizations, as well as CSR appraisal events organized by commercial media, the topic of CSR in China began to flourish. In 2006, 32 CSR Reports were published. The published report count of 600 in 2009 made it a watershed year for CSR reporting. 2010 saw a steady increase in the number of reports published. In 2012, there were already more than 1,300 CSR reports released. However, how many companies have truly reflected on the impacts of their business on society? Suddenly and without much thought, the notion of “corporate social responsibility” began to change China from the top down.
This development path revealed at least two problems:
Firstly, the development of CSR in the West took nearly half a century. Various types of enterprises have experienced first-hand the crises and opportunities that came from demands by consumers, social groups, the government, and were eventually reflected in markets and operation. It was only when a certain level of corporate maturity was reached that the issue was presented in the form of conventions, reports and publishing guidelines. In China, consumer rights awareness, labor rights, universal human rights and environmental issues have only just begun to form in society. However, with this as a foundation, the newly formed notion of corporate social responsibility is already entering a pre-mature stage of reporting and publishing. This leads to the second and more fundamental problem. Market and social reforms are only just beginning, and “corporate social responsibility” has already entered the system of discourse of Chinese enterprises by way of indoctrination, leaving behind a serious disconnect with the public’s awareness about the issue. How is corporate social responsibility to be understood under these circumstances?
When we talk about CSR in China, what are we talking about?
The internationally accepted frameworks and guidelines – GRI Guidelines and ISO 26000 Guidelines – were all geared towards pushing all types of organizations, not just enterprises, to constantly develop global sustainability through social responsibility. The UN Global Compact was also drawn up for member countries to work together to achieve the broader UN Millennium Development Goals. However in China, the framework and guidelines seem more geared towards promoting “corporate social responsibility with Chinese characteristics”. Nevermind what that would even entail, this methodology and long and short term goal differences have already placed such an approach in a lower position.
Of course, the achievement of goals needs to be supported by actual content. Looking at current systematic international CSR guidelines, labor, consumer rights, human rights, environment, anti-corruption and fair competition are often unavoidable issues requiring disclosure. Sweatshops and the labor movement directly raised awareness about human rights and labor issues, and negative impacts of products and services on society promoted a greater emphasis on the protection of consumer rights. Companies should now be responsible for the impact that their production, marketing, and logistics have on the supply chain and the environment, and stipulations imposed on large corporations’ growing influence have become the foundation for fair competition. Looking back on the growth of CSR in the west, everything was the result of societal pressures and market forces, and were by no means the result of administrative pressure or academic research.
Can we not connect the dots for each of these social issues in China’s rapidly growing economy? And yet, the top-down induced CSR with Chinese characteristics attempts to avoid the core of the problem.
The problem of labor shortage began in many places in 2003, and continues to grow today. Labor problems arising after long holidays may have caused problems for production enterprises, but is this not a logical choice made by the majority of workers when their rights are not guaranteed? Or are we to say that the responsibilities the employer-employee relationship entail extend only to administrative staff, and excludes the production line workers who face real challenges to survival? Frequent accidents, overtime work, delays in salary and overtime pay, and other instances of violations of fundamental labor rights still exist. The core contents of labor issues, including freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of all forms of forced labor and the elimination of discrimination in employment, have no channels for discussion, and do not bring up the public’s sympathy until overwhelmed workers commit suicide. For the majority of Chinese corporations, avoiding the important issues by just carrying out trainings and capacity building activities makes up the main responsibility of enterprises towards workers. If there is no foundation for change, how can it occur?
In recent years, food safety issues have become a source of constant worry for the Chinese people, resulting in an almost complete loss of faith in the industry. Food quality and consumers’ right to knowledge and safety were originally at the foundations of CSR work, but are considered “impossible to guarantee” in today’s food industry. With the constant “innovation” of poisonous food such as Sudan-dyed duck eggs, melamine milk powder, gutter oil, dyed bread, and food containing plasticizing agents, consumers have no time to think about issues like fair trade and equity, and companies are even less likely to fulfill their responsibility to direct the market’s and consumer’s behavior. At this time, when Mengniu and Maotai3 speak of “social responsibility”, what are they talking about?
From the Zijin Mining copper acid leakage accident in 2010, to the Penglai oilfield oil spill in Bolai, the Harbin Pharmaceutical Factory’s “pollution-gate”, and Apple’s Chinese outsourcing factories polluting the environment in 2011, and then again to Guangxi Longjiang River’s cadmium pollution incident, adding frequent lead poisoning incidents over the years, the serious negative externalities created by business operations and the disastrous consequences caused by corporate greed have become increasingly apparent in the field of corporate environmental responsibility. While Chinese companies are still entangled in the issue of how to treat waste water, air, and solid waste, corporate environmental responsibility in the West has already extended to a systematic tracking of carbon and water footprints, biodiversity conservation, and even the protection of experimental animals. The latter two issues, when juxtaposed with the nationwide controversy of live extraction of bile from bears in China, form a deeply ironic contrast.
More responsibility with Chinese characteristics
One cannot help but ask once more what exactly is so special about “CSR with Chinese characteristics”?
Could it be that “Chinese characteristics” are to use non-applicability as an excuse for non-disclosure on issues like human rights, labor, monopoly and corruption? Is it merely a public relations strategy of passive rhetoric in response to crises, or a public-image project by companies without thorough understanding of deeper implications? Or does it truly stem from inherent demands of the company’s own long-term development and society’s sustainable development? If the latter, then at the current stage, CSR under the backdrop of the market economy with Chinese characteristics should carry deeper connotations than the West’s. At the very least, the economic responsibility borne by enterprises within the Chinese market system should be more significant and more complex.
In the mid-1990s, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) faced bleak conditions, with two thirds operating at a loss. However in 1997, with SOEs breaking even, the system began to fuel the growth of a number of industry and local monopolies instead. Although the number of SOEs declines each year, the political and resource advantages, privileges and power enjoyed by the remaining SOEs continue to expand. Under the countless policies which, in reality, advance the nation but impede the people, private, small- and medium-scale enterprises face enormous pressure within an ever more precarious survival space. Many SOEs concentrated at the upper levels of the industry chain make use of administrative monopoly pricing that tends to be high to shift the tax burden onto private companies further down the chain and ultimately to consumers. Typical examples are PetroChina and Sinopec who, under the advantage granted them by crude oil import restrictions, allow end consumers foot the bill for high production costs. And when SOEs that enjoy financial advantages flock to the real estate industry, the same result is not hard to imagine.
In the presence of SOEs, the severe corruption issues that follow the premise of anti-monopoly and regulatory efforts should be an inescapable social responsibility and important issue for CSR with Chinese characteristics. The reality, however, runs completely counter to this expectation.
At the same time, fair operations and fair market competition should also include respect for intellectual property rights. One of the tremendous risks of an economy that relies on its demographic dividend and low-cost labor-intensive industries to generate growth is loss of enterprises’ innovative capacity. When enterprises with low innovative capacity ignore intellectual property protection and attempt to profit by emulating or downright copying, those with innovative capacity are adversely affected in what becomes a vicious cycle. Most corporate patent infringement disputes exist between Chinese and foreign companies. While Chinese corporations were befuddled by the “Section 337” investigations in the United States and their implications on trade friction and technical barriers, did they give thought to their latecomer status and responsibility to maintain fair competition and protect innovation? In the online era, with the widespread and dynamic instances of intellectual property right violations, search engines, video sites and many big domestic internet companies’ treatment of intellectual property has entered a grey area.
When Chinese companies see “charity” as an important component of CSR and a means to offset negative impact, but overlook the essential ability of public service to solve or alleviate social problems, they suffer the same malady as those who selectively fulfill their responsibility by invoking “CSR with Chinese characteristics” and those who avoid responsibility that is not in line with “Chinese conditions”. When reports on CSR with “Chinese characteristics” become propaganda instead of self-reflection and channels for disclosure, they erode the public’s faith in both these reports and the companies themselves.
At the end of the day, what is the social responsibility of Chinese corporations? Is it based on the corporate ecosystem in a broad sense, to approach social problems responsibly and be committed to solving them? Or is it a mirage-like vision around the question of what is “social responsibility”? If this is really different from the Western definition of social responsibility, then does the difference stem from interpretations of “corporation”, “society”, or “responsibility”? At a time such as this, shouldn’t the demands of Chinese society on corporations and their “responsibility”, and likewise the responsibility of Chinese corporations towards society, be more and not less?
This includes the United Nations Global Compact, guidelines published by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the ISO26000 guidelines released by ISO. ↩
OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer and describes how one company’s product is used as a component or re-sold by another company. ↩
Mengniu and Maotai are a milk company and an alcohol company respectively that have both been involved in food quality scandals. ↩
此时的西方，大企业占统治地位的经济格局初见端倪。一方面，企业本身规模与权力大肆扩张，成为足以与西方“小政府”相抗衡的社会部门，它通过盘剥、垄断等 手段追逐利益，开始给社会带来负面影响；另一方面，企业所有权与经营权分离，资本家不再是日常的管理者，而以短期绩效表现来赢得回报的经理人很可能忽视企 业的长期盈利和持续成长。
从20世纪初期的劳工问题、人权问题，到后来的环保主义运动、消费者权益运动，再到绿色生产和可持续发展的变革，每一个历经百年的“伟大”企业都曾见证一 次又一次的挑战和机遇。包括麦当劳（McDonald）在内的连锁餐饮企业被指应对其高脂肪含量食物可能引起的，包括心脏病在内的社会健康危机负责；耐克 （Nike）、李维斯（Levi-Strauss）等采用大量代工生产的服装企业被曝出血汗工厂丑闻；沃尔玛（Wal-Mart）等大型零售商则因为没有 善待员工而一度备受指责；倡导咖啡和社区文化的星巴克（Starbucks）曾因剥削咖啡豆种植农户被推至风口浪尖；以埃克森美孚 （ExxonMobil）为代表的能源企业更是成了环保势力的众矢之的。当这些企业因成功而对社会产生深远影响，因影响而受到更多关注，因关注而被赋予超 越企业盈利的要求时，它们失责导致了来自消费者、媒体、社会组织、立法机构乃至政府的压力，不仅敦促这些企业重塑形象，也同时催生了社会各界对企业所应履 行的社会责任的思考。
公共事件的影响力向确立行业行为准则、制定国家与地方立法和国际惯例等领域延伸。从20世纪陆续出台的各国相关领域的法律法规，到《世界人权宣言》、《国 际劳工组织公约》、《联合国消费者保护准则》、《关于环境与发展的里约宣言》、《千年发展目标》等国际文件被贯彻到企业经营行为中，到20世纪末期美国 “社会责任国际”组织（SAI）、国际标准化组织（ISO）相继制定在劳工和环境特定领域的国际标准，再到21世纪初期出现较为全面的企业社会责任框架， 包括联合国启动的《全球契约》、全球报告倡议组织（GRI）发布的指南和国际标准化组织发布的ISO26000指南。
“对内改革，对外开放”的政策试图建立“中国特色”的市场经济制度。改革开放之初，珠江三角洲成为中国经济发展的先锋力量。新中国迄今为止最伟大的企业 家在那个年代开始了原始积累；同时，来自港澳台以及西方的境外资金，通过劳动密集型的产业发展，将中国打造成又一个“世界工厂”。中国正探索一条从计划经 济向市场经济转轨，鼓励民间资本积累，吸引海外资金流入，踏上“中国特色”市场经济体制建设的征程。
与资金流动相对应的，则是人力资本的流动。20世纪末，中国城乡涌起了声势浩大的“民工潮”，至今都是造成诸多“中国特色”社会现象的重要因素。然而，珠 三角深圳特区致丽玩具工厂的一场大火，却成了盛宴与狂欢时当头的一盆冷水。全名“深圳市葵涌致丽工艺制品厂”是一家港资企业下属的工厂，主要生产国外品牌 的代工玩具。1989年建厂，1993年11月19日发生特大火灾，当时厂内400多名打工者中死难87人，震惊全国。中央派出调查组，深圳成立事故处理 小组，这场大火直接加速了1994年新中国第一部《劳动法》的问世。
比《劳动法》早一年出台的《消费者权益保护法》也有其所谓“内幕”。除了缺乏对产品质量的法律保障外，公众作为消费者，对何为自己的合法权益，如何伸张权 益的拷问，与历史空白形成尖锐的矛盾。20年前，当超市还是新鲜事物时，几乎每家超市门口都挂有“本公司保留搜查顾客所携带的包裹的权利”的告示牌。 1991年12月23日下午，一对在北京国贸大厦惠康超市购物的姐妹俩被无故搜身，她们欲状告侵犯其权益的超市，却投诉无门。
比改革开放更早几年的1971年，中国恢复联合国席位，并于翌年参加斯德哥尔摩人类环境会议，成为中国“环境外交”的开端。在其后的80年代、90年代， “环保”成为一个概念，走进中国。然而，环境污染的后果往往随着时间推移才能显现，而儿童血铅超标和癌症村的悲剧都不足以带来切肤之痛。直到2005年松花江水污染事件才在全国范围内激发起公众对 “环保”的感知。是年11月13日，吉林石化公司双苯厂一车间发生爆炸，约100吨苯类物质（苯、硝基苯等）流入松花江，造成了江水严重污染，沿岸数百万 居民的生活受到影响。国家环保局局长请辞，事件直接成为 “十一五”规划中提出环境友好型社会的历史背书。而厦门市于2006年引进总投资额108亿元人民币的对二甲苯化工项目（俗称PX项目），社会各界力量共 同抵制的群体事件，则成为了中国公众大规模参与环保的重要转折点。
企业运营所带来负外部性，正用另一种方式试图加以弥补。1989年，“希望工程”在全国启动，声势浩大，那帧《我要上学》照片中的大眼睛女孩成了这以后很 长一段时间公益事业的象征，而影像之下，则是如雨后春笋般涌现的由企业捐赠建立的“希望小学”。2008年汶川和2010年玉树的两次地震，让中国企业开 始在公益事业投入中找到了“存在感”，并领受着由此带来的品牌美誉度提升。近年来，非公募基金会的成立，使企业从国家推动公益事业的响应者，成为了公益领 域的弄潮儿。
2006年，国家电网发布首份央企社会责任报告，同年深交所颁布了《上市公司社会责任指引》，鼓励上市公司以此为依据发布社会责任报告。自此，中国企业社 会责任议题就在一轮接一轮的报告发布，证交所、国资委等具有浓重官方色彩的机构部门出台指引，以及商业媒体举办以报告为基础的企业社会责任评比中，蓬勃发 展起来。2006年32份企业社会责任报告公开发布；600份的发布数量使2009年成了企业社会责任报告的“井喷”之年；2010年以后报告发布稳定增 长，2012年已有超过1 300份企业社会责任报告对外发布。但是，有多少企业全面反省过其经营可能给社会带来的影响？一时间，“企业社会责任”一词未经思考就开始自上而下地改变 中国。
其一，企业社会责任在西方发展接近半个世纪，各类企业在经营过程中已经面临了来自消费者、社会组织、政府，最后反应到市场和经营表现中的危机和机遇，在特 定成熟阶段才开始以公约、报告和披露指南等形式呈现出来。在中国，社会各界对消费者权益、劳工权益、普遍人权和环保议题的认识尚且刚刚形成，而以此为基础 的企业社会责任刚一出生就进入了早熟的报告发布期。
国际通行的框架指南—GRI指南和ISO26000指南都是为推动各类机构，不仅仅包括企业，在履行社会责任的过程中实现世界范围的可持续发展。《联合国 全球契约》的制定更是为了联合成员机构为实现更为广泛的“联合国千年发展目标”而共同努力。反观国内，似乎框架指南更多是为了推动“具有中国特色企业社会 责任”的发展。且不谈何谓“中国特色的企业社会责任”，这种“道”和“术”、长远和短视的目标差异，就已经将它置于一个较低的位置。
当然，目标的达成还需要通过整体内容来支撑。纵观目前系统化的国际企业社会责任指南，以下几个方面往往是不可回避的披露内容：劳工、消费者权益、人权、环 境、反腐败与反不正当竞争。血汗工厂和劳工运动直接导致对人权和劳工问题的关注；产品与服务对社会的负面影响促进了对消费者权益保护的重视；企业应该为其 生产、销售、物流等运营环节，对供应链和环境负有责任；对大企业权力扩张的警惕则成为反不正当竞争的基础。回顾企业社会责任在西方的发展，无一不是社会力 量和市场推动的结果，而绝非行政压力或学术研究的产物。
2003年多地出现了“民工荒”，并且一直延续至今，长假以后的用工问题或许严重困扰了生产企业，但这不正是广大民工面对权益无法得到保障而做出的理性选 择？难道说，雇佣关系中的责任仅仅只是对行政员工履行，而排除生存状况真正堪忧的生产线工人？安全事故频发、超时工作、欠薪、加班费拖欠等侵犯劳工基本权 益的现象尚且存在，包括结社自由、承认集体谈判权利、消除一切形式的强迫劳动、消除就业歧视等方面在内的国际劳工问题核心内容则无从谈起，也更不会在工人 不堪重负跳楼轻生前施以人道关注。在大多中国企业的观点中，避重就轻的培训与能力提升，成了企业对员工应履行的大部分责任。然而，基础不在，何来高楼？
近年来，食品安全问题成了中国民众时时揪心，几乎丧失信任的一大议题。原本在企业对市场、对消费者应当履行的责任中，处于基础位置的是产品质量问题，以及 消费者知情权和安全保障权，在食品行业的企业社会责任中已经成了“不可能完成的任务”。苏丹红鸭蛋、瘦肉精、三聚氰胺奶粉和牛奶、地沟油、染色馒头、塑化 剂有毒食品的不断“推陈出新”，消费者几乎无暇顾及其他诸如公平交易、依法求偿等权益，企业更不会履行其对市场和消费行为进行正确导向的责任。此时，当蒙 牛、茅台要说社会责任的时候，他们在说什么？
企业环境责任领域，从2010年紫金矿业铜酸水渗漏事故，到2011年渤海蓬莱油田溢油事故、哈药总厂“污染门”、苹果公司中国代工厂污染环境，再到 2012年广西龙江河镉污染事件，加之血铅超标事件历年来频发不止，日益显现企业经营所造成的严重负外部性以及企业唯利是图所导致的灾难性后果。而当中国 企业纠结于“三废”处理时，西方企业的环境责任已经延伸到系统化的碳足迹和水足迹追踪、生物多样性保护，甚至是实验动物保护，后两者与在全国引起争议的 “活熊取胆”事件，形成具有讽刺意义的对比。
“中国特色”，难道应该是对人权、劳工、反垄断、反腐败等内容，以不适用为由不予披露？难道仅仅是被动的危机公关辞令，或是企业不明就里的形象工程？还是 真正来自于企业自身长远发展和社会可持续发展的内在诉求？如果是后者，那么现阶段，“中国特色”市场经济背景下的企业社会责任，应该比西方企业的社会责任 具有更多内涵。至少，企业在市场机制中承担的经济责任就更为重大、更为复杂。
20世纪90年代中期，国有企业经营惨淡，2/3以上的国有企业处于亏损状态。而在1997年实现国企脱困的背景下，却实际上扶植起了一批行业垄断、地方 垄断的巨头。虽然每年央企数量都在减少，但余下的央企和地方国企在政策、资源上享有优势、占有的利益、拥有的权力不断扩大。一轮轮实际上“国进民退”的政 策推动下，民企和中小型企业生存压力巨大，生存空间岌岌可危。很多集中于产业链上游的国有企业，通过往往是偏高的行政垄断定价，将税收负担转嫁给了中下游 的民营企业和最终的消费者，其中典型的就有中石油和中石化在原油进口限制给其带来的优势下，不仅使下游民营企业不得不在边缘谋取生存，也让广大终端消费者 为产业链的高成本买单。而当享有资金优势的央企纷纷涉足房地产行业时，同样的结果可想而知。
与此同时，公平运营与公平的市场竞争中还应该包括对知识产权的尊重。以人口红利和低成本劳动密集型产业拉动经济增长，需要承担的巨大风险之一，是企业创新 能力的丧失。当缺乏创新力的企业企图无视知识产权保护，通过模仿甚至剽窃不劳而获时，对原本具有创新动力和能力的企业同样带来打击，由此陷入恶性循环。企 业专利侵权的纠纷往往存在于中国企业与外企之间，当中国企业对美国“337调查”尚且摸不着头脑究其为贸易摩擦和技术壁垒的时候，是否真正思考中国企业占 居后发地位时其自身对维护公平竞争，保持社会创新力所应履行的责任？而在互联网时代的背景下，知识产权侵权事件普遍、分散、动态的呈现，也让包括搜索引 擎、视频网站等不少国产互联网大企业的侵权行为处于灰色地带。
当中国企业已经习惯了将公益慈善作为企业社会责任的重要组成，充实内容，抵消负面影响，而忽视公益解决或缓解社会问题的本质时，这与借由“中国特色企业社 会责任”有选择性地履行责任，以“不符合中国国情”为由来回避责任，已经成了同样的弊病。当“中国特色”的企业社会责任报告成为宣传品，而非自我反思和信 息披露的渠道，实际上是在消解公众对于报告、对于企业本身的信任。