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The role of feminism in business ethics/CSR

As per Council of Europe (1998, p.7) as “an equal visibility, empowerment and participation of both sexes in all spheres of public and private life” has been acknowledged as a key issue in corporate social responsibility practice. According to Habermas (1998), like other core corporate social responsibility agendas, gender equality is recognized as an integral part of the process which is seen as a shred of evidence by poverty feminization.

Babcock (2012) stated that “companies with a significant number of women at the top are better practitioners of corporate social responsibility and sustainability than other firms and are delivering big wins for business and society.”

Sustainability can be defined as maintenance of the human species existence, welfare from intergenerational society, productivity and the economic systems should be resilient (Tisdell 1991:164). As per Costanza et al. (1992:9) maintaining natural capital stocks and the environment’s regenerative capacity (Hueting et al. 1992) can be supported as a part of sustainability.  

As per Heide (2000), “equality between men and women, entails the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behaviour, aspirations, and needs of women and men are considered, valued, and favored equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities will not depend on whether they were born male or female”

With the quotation mentioned above from Babcock, the main aim of the paper is to explore the role of feminism in business ethics or corporate social responsibility. Through secondary research, the information has been collected.

Theories of different terms

In this section, we go through different definitions provided by various authors for corporate social responsibility and feminism.

Corporate Social Responsibility/ Business Ethics

“CSR is defined here as a set of practices and policies enacted by private businesses with the ostensible aim of first, limiting negative impacts of businesses (not harm), and second, contributing to society through activities that benefit people and planet”. (Gond & Moon, 2011)

According to Moon, Murphy & Gond (2017), corporate social responsibility and business ethics can be seen as related and overlapped with different assumptions and purposes. Mostly the principles related to ethics and challenges are very peculiar responsibility where the business is a societal concern for a long time which can be seen as a shred of evidence from eastern and ancient west philosophies. As per Knudsen & Moon (2017: chapter 5), the status of the social movements against slavery can be seen as more recent in management and business academic curriculum. Nonetheless, the professional associations and journals have emerged with overlapping fields as a distinctive feature.

As per Davis (1973: 313), corporate social responsibility is defined as “the firm’s consideration of, and response to, issues beyond the narrow economic, technical and legal requirements of the firm”. Moreover, McGuire (1963:144) argues that “the idea of social responsibilities supposes that the corporation has not only economic and legal obligations but also certain responsibilities to society which extend beyond those obligations”.

Another definition for corporate social responsibility is presumed as “CSR refers to the integration of an enterprise’s social, environmental, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities towards society into its operations, processes, and core business strategy in cooperation with relevant stakeholders” (Rasche, Morsing, & Moon, 2017:6) whereas an inductive definition by author Bowen (1953:6), “the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society” whereas Matten and Moon (2008:405) defined it as “policies and practices of corporations that reflect business responsibility for some wider societal good. The precise manifestation and direction of the responsibility lie at the discretion of the corporation”.

As per Garriga & Mele (2004), business ethics have influenced corporate social responsibility heavily, and as per Carroll (1979) ethical responsibility, economic, legal, and philanthropical responsibility are considered as principal to conduct business. In spite of that, Mc Williams & Siegel (2001) stated that corporate social responsibility could be distinguished from business ethics in many ways. One of the methods described by McWilliams & Siegel (2001) is business ethics where it is mainly focused on the corporation responsibilities with distinctive features of ownership and governance structures whereas corporate social responsibility is expanded to involve the responsibilities of other business organizations, but the individual responsibility is mainly within the ambit of business ethics. The second way is that the concerns are not solely motivated by the corporation’s obligations but also by the corporation’s strategic interest.

According to Epstein (1989) and Stevenson (1989), business ethics include the reflection of the systematic approach, societal values need to be recognized in general, institution, policies, and behavior of the individual and organizational actors have more moral significance. Another good argument placed by Calas & Smircich (1990) towards the viewpoint of business ethics is where the focus is more on the morality of consciousness than the power imbalance played down in the industry and the deficits related to the structure got less importance.


Feminism has been described as a renaissance in leading culture (Koffman & Gill, 2013). According to Butler (2004:204), “Feminism is about the social transformation of gender relations” and as per Walby 2011, reducing gender inequality through the quest for justice is by increasing the diverse interests of women and thereby through structural change, equality can be achieved. According to Collinson & Hearn (1994:2), in gender studies, the study about women has been seen as very important, but then also it has been addressed as “men as men” and thereby the masculinity of different kinds have been explored which are constructed, normalized, and indifferent organization and societies, it has been maintained.

As per Calas & Smircich (2006:286), emphasis in the original; with the help of epistemological and cognitive dimension, questions have been raised for masculine biases in defining how the things (e.g., Business, ethics, responsibility) should be thought-about, framed and investigated. The concept of the power has been engaged with feminism stating that “Feminist theory is a critique of the status quo and therefore always political,” however, “the degree of critique and the nature of the politics vary” where the agendas that range from individual fixing leads to “reforming organizations; to transforming organizations and society; to transforming our prior understanding of what constitutes knowledge” in the field.

A counter-argument has been placed by Gilligan (2010), feminism is “not defined as an issue of women or of men, or as a battle between men and women.” Comparatively, feminisms are related to alleviating the schisms with intrapersonal and interpersonal that can happen within an individual and not just between genders.

Feminism in Business Ethics/Corporate Social Responsibility


According to Acker (1990), the University of Virginia’s Darden School held a conference in 1990 to begin the conversation between business ethics and feminism as a part of the Ruffin Series in Business Ethics. The conference was attended by scholars from women’s studies from Business Ethics where the significance of gender was explored in the business organization of ethical management.

As per Larson &Freeman (1974:4), the contributors indicated that “corporations are presented as socially constructed organizations that assume, in their practice and ideology, that men are the standard of measurements.”  As per Acker (1990), a few caring responsibilities were conceived by workers that interfere with the workplace. The second was “the power of feminist critiques to bring gender into focus as a central organizing principle of economic life” along with race and class. The third problem was the role of “unexamined frames” (Acker 1990) where the dominant views are naturalized to “govern us such that alternative ways of thinking” about business are “silenced” (Acker 1990).

According to Ferguson (1997, 545) cited in Grosser, K., Moon, J., & Nelson, J. A. (2017) “develops this argument with reference to the variety of different perspectives from the periphery that can inform the debate. She argues that while liberal feminism’s reforms often enhance the opportunities available to those classes and colors of women who can claim access to traditional institutions, the perspectives of women who operate further out on the periphery of organizations is important in enabling us to see and alter the structures that produce global gender inequities.”

As per Larson & Freeman (1997:5), the last theme explored in the conversation was “business ethics is portrayed as feminized in its subordinate position relative to the more central and dominant areas of business management (e.g., in finance & accounting). At the same time business ethics is seen as in cooperation with management ideology created in the business ethics arguments that will find acceptance within traditional business school environments”.        

As per White (1992), the handling of ethical dilemmas between men and women began to increase in business. According to Derry (1996: 106), feminist ethics of justice has been discussed decidedly less which he pointed out as “explicitly attempts to solve the inequities of discrimination rather than finding in women’s skills a fortuitous tool to economic efficiency”. Borgerson (2007) affirms that the concern for gender equality has remained on the agenda of business ethics. The concern has been supported by Kelan (2008:427), where she argues that “there is little space within this web of discourses for an awareness of the continued inequalities experienced by women in relation to men to be voiced.” According to Derry (1996:105), the ethics tendency in feminine care has been sideline concerning gender inequality where the stereotypes have been reinforced by confining the business roles that are available to men and women.

As per Borgerson’s appraisal (2007), the relationship between business ethics and feminism focuses more on experience, agency, and power. Between 1992 and 2002, the growth of corporate social responsibility can be traced which was somewhat iterative as per Lockett, Moon, and Visser (2006). As per Grosser (2009), concerning stakeholder, scrutiny has been put more on gender equality and the process of governance in corporate social responsibility (Grosser, 2016).

According to Grosser & Moon (2017), the interest of feminist researchers has been stimulated from many disciplines where the feminist theory has been analyzed for such initiatives despite the fact of not being referred to in the body of the work.

As per Cornwall & Anyidoho (2010), in development circles, the contribution to social, economic, and environmental sustainability has been seen as a potential for empowered women.

As we can see, we explored how the role of feminism originates in business ethics and corporate social responsibility thereby, we can conclude that it is a long journey that has started but not yet achieved a concurrent solution that can show a bright path.

Adoption in companies

Engagement of women empowerment projects has become a significant part of many of the supply value chain activities in a business-like Coca-Cola, Vodafone, Walmart, H&M, General Mills, and many others for their effort in Corporate Social Responsibility. (ICRW, 2016). As per Dobson & White (1995), there was a longstanding debate was going on in business ethics related to the sustainability and the global development of the women as a focus regarding a carrier especially in Business Ethics Quarterly, questioning whether feminine ethics is there or not.

The focus is on cultivating with feminist ethics on rationality and cooperation for responsible business (Wicks et al., 1996) and make a better world by exuding power with women (White, 1992).

The corporate attention until this end provided to women for empowering them in value chains mirrors the early approaches, especially in the global South, relates to feminism, business ethics, and social change. Thereby McCarthy (2017) argued that the misassumptions about ethics of feminism adopted in corporate social responsibility curriculum are not without any concern.  According to Karam & Jamali (2013), In the global South, the CSR practices related to the diversity of ‘gendered’ reflects an increased awareness of women even then as per Tornhill (2016a), women’s empowerment programs are few of the remaining studies that have been operationalized in term of gender in corporate social responsibility.

Is CSR playing a role in feminism?

As per Prügl (2015), for women’s empowerment are the corporate social responsibility programs as an apt vehicle which is still a question that needs to be answered where different assumptions have not been easily explained because of how female emancipation has won.

Even Hale & Opondo (2005) raises the same question about corporate social responsibility activities empowering women where the exploitation is a significant cause but seems to be redundant. A lot of observational studies pointed out about such a case in Kenyan flower value chains where the beating and sexual harassment of women workers by male supervisors have been documented. Another such concern of gender-blindness by Barrientos, Dolan & Tallontire (2003) of corporate social responsibility’s codes of conduct, and auditing has been reported where the women worker’s specific needs have not been recognized, and they have been effectively shut out.

Thereby Wilson (2011) has raised his opinion about the concept of corporate social responsibility and is it valuing the women’s employment in value chain activities. Drebes (2014) pointed is it women are free to give up an underpaid and hazardous job with a limited number of options. According to Pearson (2007), a significant amount of work over the 40 years has shown that for business, women are used as a disposable resource. Surprisingly, in Middle-east, female employment increased which is predicted as a new business economic opportunity by Karam & Jamali (2013), but Syed & Van Buren (2014) mentioned that the freedom of sex is still a whole subject.

Grosser & Moon (2017) addressed the effect of accommodating the impact of feminist organization theory (FOT) on corporate social responsibility scholarship. The feminist theory contains six main themes- liberal, radical, psychoanalytical, socialist/gendered organizations, post-structural, and transnational/post(colonial) are implemented in the studies of feminist organizations and how each has essentially informed the gender and corporate social responsibility literature. By mapping the approaches to six themes of corporate social responsibility theory, i.e., ethical, instrumental, stakeholder, political, institutional, and critical which pointed to a direction of new research that can be commonly used at the interface of BE/Corporate Social Responsibility.

As per Derry (1996, 107), “feminist approaches to ethics are actively committed to social change by means of critically recognizing subordination, creating resistance, and envisioning alternatives”. Thereby his thought is that a feminist firm can identify challenges like ethics of workplace practice, marketing, and investment.

Thereby Grosser & Moon (2017) found that the theory of psychoanalytic feminists focused on the distinction between female and male and thus the feminine values are articulated related to the leadership relation and care of ethics, and upon ethical research in corporate social responsibility, it had a significant impact. Phillips (2014:443) states that eco-feminist theory is used to explore the “’logic of patriarchy’ based on interrelated and cross-cutting dualisms that support the subordination of nature and other oppressed groups.”

According to Grosser (2009), in stakeholder relations, attention to gender equality has been drawn, and in the process of governance, corporate social responsibility has been included as a part of it. Grosser (2016).

So, through various authors and cases, we can see that corporate social responsibility is playing a significant role in revolutionizing the part of feminism. The theme has been addressed in various ways and encouraging society to take it seriously and accomplish a significant improvement to help the community to make it function in a better way.


In conclusion, the origin of feminism and the discussion in business ethics or corporate social responsibility has been revisited by conducting a literature analysis in a bibliography. The relation of gender and the term associated with feminism, business ethics, or corporate social responsibility has been explored through different theories presented by scholars over the last 25 periods. Through different scenario, the challenges of feminism in business ethics / corporate social responsibility have been raised and thereby research with new potential have been pointed out to understand the inequality in the business itself.

Nonetheless, the analysis of the gender and the gender challenge in CSR agenda needs to be something that goes beyond women (or men) concern where the particular supply chains of the labor force need to be in a specific moment in time and space. Pearson (2007).


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