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Corporate Social Responsibility: A Framework For Understanding the Legal Structure

Kevin O'Callaghan, Proceedings of 57th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2011)

Although corporate social responsibility (CSR) does not have a universally accepted definition, it can be described as the economic, legal, social, ethical, and discretionary expectations that society has regarding the activities of private sector corporations. Corporations have positive responsibilities, not only to their shareholders, but also to a diverse range of stakeholders including employees; suppliers; customers; the local [17A-4] community; local, state, and federal governments; and environmental groups and other nongovernmental organizations.
While the concept of CSR has been around for a long time, it is more recently that we have seen the beginnings of a substantial shift in the legal, social, and political landscape towards companies being held meaningfully responsible for the economic, social, and environmental consequences of their business activities. Natural resource companies in particular often face serious challenges from foreign governments, indigenous peoples, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and local communities. Financial institutions and investors have reacted to these risks and often demand companies to mitigate the risk through a well developed CSR strategy.
In response to demands for CSR, a patchwork of CSR-related treaties, legislation, voluntary norms, and best practices has evolved. This patchwork is complex and interrelated (in t