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Corporate Social Responsibility: A Step Towards Stronger Involvement of Business in MEA Implementation?



This article explores the relationship between multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and corporate social responsibility (CSR). It offers an overview of the linkages, a survey of relevant provisions of key MEAs, and a review of the relationship between global trade rules and MEAs. Finally, the article highlights three ongoing discussions with relevance to linkages between CSR and MEAs: (1) whether, and if so how, to identify minimum global business standards in the environmental sphere; (2) the rapidly evolving ‘sub-theme’ within the CSR agenda which addresses the business/development interface, and the contribution of business to poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods and achieving the Millennium Development Goals; and (3) the development by the International Organization for Standardization of an international guidance standard on ‘organizational social responsibility’, which, if adopted, will become ISO 26000. The risk of seeing CSR as a new pathway to MEA implementation is that the role of MEAs in informing the development of minimum acceptable environmental norms of business behaviour will be ‘watered down’. If MEAs are to learn from CSR, their competitors and often stronger counterparts in the international architecture – intergovernmental trade and investment arrangements – also need to be equipped not only to be sensitive to CSR, but actively to support it.1