The social enterprise movement and the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, including its progressive corporate law offshoot, appear to have much in common. They both seek a “better” world in a broadly left-liberal sense. Both want more businesses to take the interests of nonshareholder stakeholders seriously and to play a larger role in addressing pressing social and environmental problems. Yet there are some critical and underexplored differences in each movement’s approach to social change.
We argue that social enterprise offers an authentic alternative to CSR, even though its short-term social impact would likely be smaller. This alternative, moreover, is remarkably congenial to mainstream corporate law in ideology and methodology. In one respect, the social enterprise movement sidesteps the CSR debate by operating in a different setting—its vision is realized and embodied in new organizational forms rather than existing corporations. In another respect, the movement shows how mainstream corporate law can accommodate CSR’s and progressive corporate law’s concerns without fundamental change.
This Article is presented in three parts. Part II provides a Berle-themed synthesis of the CSR debate, including its progressive corporate law iteration. Part III describes the social enterprise movement, its legal agenda, and discusses several new legal forms designed specifically for dual-goal businesses. Part IV highlights the overlaps and conflicts between each approach, and in light of the longstanding debate, explains the new and vital aspects of the social enterprise movement. Specifically, social enterprise advances the debate in unexpected ways—the movement appropriates some CSR notions and shares some CSR sensibilities, but combines them in a manner that should please corporate contractarians, alarm proponents of progressive corporate law, and discomfort some proponents of CSR.
Antony Page and Robert A. Katz, Is Social Enterprise the New Corporate Social Responsibility?, 34 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 1351 (2011).