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Social partners or full‐fledged stakeholders? Trade unions and CSR in Europe (France, Germany and the UK)

Olivier Delbard (Law, Economics and Social Sciences Department, ESCP Europe, Paris, France)

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Article publication date: 4 October 2011




The purpose of this paper is to question the status of trade unions on corporate social responsibility (CSR) today in the European Union (EU). How do they go from being social partners to a full‐fledged stakeholder status? The paper examines this question both from the point of view of stakeholder theory and from a field study in three different European countries.


The methodology is qualitative, i.e. based on a series of face‐to‐face interviews conducted in three different European countries (France, Germany, the UK) with different stakeholders, union representatives, non‐governmental organizations, experts, employers' associations.


The main findings are: inadequacy between stakeholder theory and the reality of European trade unionism and the CSR debate; trade unions are not “natural” stakeholders, rather “stake‐seekers”; the national business approach is relevant, in that national differences account for major differences among the three countries studied; and the European and global implications of trade unions into CSR help them gain full stakeholder status.

Research limitations/implications

The sample is a bit limited; it would be interesting to enlarge the scope of European countries. Also, it would also be relevant to interview shop‐floor members to analyze the gap between union officials and rank and file members.

Practical implications

This paper can help unions consider CSR in a better way, so as to integrate CSR issues into their agenda.

Social implications

The status of trade unions in the CSR debate has largely been overlooked, whereas their role in European countries is quite important.


There has been very little previous research on trade unions and CSR. The cross‐cultural dimension of this research and the EU dimension add value to the paper.



Delbard, O. (2011), "Social partners or full‐fledged stakeholders? Trade unions and CSR in Europe (France, Germany and the UK)", Society and Business Review, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 260-277.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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