Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) aims to better integrate social and environmental concerns into business routines on a voluntary basis. The present article is concerned with the political side of the management approach. By systematically characterising the public policies on CSR throughout Europe, it first complements the existing, often unsystematic, accounts of how governments address CSR (mostly provided in management journals). Second, it also brings the issue closer to political science. After explaining why governments show interest in CSR, the article introduces CSR as a voluntary contribution to sustainable development. It then develops a typology of CSR policies that distinguishes five types of policy instruments (legal, economic, informational, partnering and hybrid) and four thematic fields of action (raise awareness, improve transparency, foster socially responsible investment and lead by example). Based on this systematic description of CSR policies, the article explores what CSR and the respective public policies imply for business–government relations as well as the changing patterns of regulation. It concludes that CSR started out as a neo-liberal concept that helped to downscale government regulations, but that it has in turn matured into a more progressive approach of societal co-regulation in recent years. Regarding the effectiveness and the opportunity costs of this new pattern of governance, the article emphasises that the respective assessment gaps should be filled by case study research.
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