While several decades ago, discussions regarding corporate social responsibility (CSR) were limited to a small group of academics and parts of the business sector; in the recent past, it has grown to become a complex concept with multiple effects and aspects. It is considered to be heavily influential in the decision making of multinational companies. Regarding extractive multinationals, the need for new areas for extraction of natural resources has predictably caused disputes between corporations and local communities, as well as a plethora of environmental considerations. This article contributes to this debate by addressing the issue of whether the CSR of extractive multinationals really contributes to the sustainable development of developing countries. In addition, reasons for CSR not attaining its potential regarding sustainable development are set out and evaluated. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.