Tough social issues provide a challenge for companies and researchers

February 22, 2016

New York, Feb. 22, 2016 - Multinational companies are facing tough issues like climate change, poverty and human rights. A new study published in the Journal of World Business suggests that they are increasingly seen to have a responsibility to support sustainable development.

The study, authored by Professor Ans Kolk from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, has been selected by an independent advisory board to be given the Atlas award, recognizing the impact it has on people's lives around the world.

In the study, Prof. Kolk looks back at over 50 years of research in three main areas of social responsibility: the environment, ethics, and poverty and sustainable development. Her article tracks changes in the way researchers have approached these three broad topics, providing context and explaining what was affecting the changes at the time.

"Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been around for decades as a concept, and there has been a lot of research on it since the 1960s," Prof. Kolk explained. "The Journal of World Business was turning 50 so I looked at the journal's articles related to CSR since 1965, and compared it to other main publications to get a picture of how the field overall has changed. I also indicated which areas we should focus on more -- or less."

Prof. Kolk found that in the last decades, society's expectations have shifted significantly. The arrival of the internet has enabled people to put more pressure on companies to "do the right thing". Rather than waiting to be attacked, companies should prepare themselves and proactively address their impact on the world.

One way to help companies tackle this is to focus research on how issues like human rights, inequality and the impending energy transition are connected to international strategy, and on how businesses can operate in weak states and settings characterized by social dislocation.

To make this happen, sustainable development research needs more coverage in international business journals. Prof. Kolk believes companies need to be more flexible and take a "braver approach" to CSR by publishing more unconventional, even exploratory work.

Prof. Jonathan Doh, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of World Business, explained the importance of the study: "Ans Kolk provides a comprehensive account of the relationships among different social and environmental considerations in the global business environment. She also documents the evolving nature of these concepts in the international business and management literature and their connection to real world phenomena. This is truly a first rate review and retrospective with important messages for the future trajectory of this critical domain."
The article is "The social responsibility of international business: From ethics and the environment to CSR and sustainable development", by Ans Kolk (doi: 10.1016/j.jwb.2015.08.010). The article appears in Journal of World Business, Vol. 51, Issue 1 (January 2016) pages 23-34, published by Elsevier.

Notes for Editors

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request, contact

About Journal of World Business

The Journal of World Business publishes cutting-edge research that reflects important developments in the global business environment and advances new theoretical directions and ways of thinking about global phenomena. The journal covers a variety of conceptual and theoretical traditions, including those drawn from social and behavioral sciences. Topics include strategic management, organizational behavior, cross-cultural management, leadership, ethics, social responsibility and sustainability, and innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.

About Atlas, Research for a better world

Science impacts everyone's world. With over 1,800 journals publishing articles from across science, technology and health, our mission is to share some of the stories that matter. Each month Atlas will showcase research that can (or already has) significantly impact people's lives around the world and we hope that bringing wider attention to this research will go some way to ensuring its successful implementation.

With so many worthy articles published the tough job of selecting a single article to be awarded The Atlas each month comes down to an Advisory Board. The winning research is presented alongside interviews, expert opinions, multimedia and much more on the Atlas website:

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions -- among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey -- and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 33,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group plc, a world-leading provider of information solutions for professional customers across industries.

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