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In search of ethics: from Carroll to integrative CSR economics

Sigmund Wagner-Tsukamoto (University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)

Social Responsibility Journal

ISSN: 1747-1117

Article publication date: 4 December 2018

Issue publication date: 21 June 2019




Revisiting Carroll’s classic corporate social responsibility (CSR) pyramid framework, this paper aims to evolve a novel synthesis of ethics and economics. This yielded an “integrative CSR economics”.


This theory paper examined how to conceptually set up CSR theory, argue its ethical nature and establish its practical, social and empirical relevance. Economic analysis reached out from contemporary institutional economics to Smith’s classic studies.


The paper reconstructed all of Carroll’s four dimensions of CSR – economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic responsibilities – through economics. The paper discounted a core assumption of much CSR research that economic approach to CSR, including the instrumental, strategic “business case” approach to CSR, were unethical and lacked any foundations in ethics theory. Integrative CSR economics reframes research on viability and capability requirements for CSR practice; redirecting empirical research on links between CSP (corporate social performance) and CFP (corporate financial performance).

Research limitations/implications

The paper focused on Carroll as the leading champion of CSR research. Future research needs to align other writers with integrative CSR economics. Friedman or Freeman, or the historic contributions of Dodd, Mayo, Bowen or Drucker, are especially interesting.

Practical implications

The paper set out how integrative CSR economics satisfies the “business case” approach to CSR and develops practical implications along: a systemic dimension of the market economy; a legal-constitutional dimension; and the dimension of market exchanges.

Social implications

Integrative CSR economics creates ethical benefits for society along: a systemic dimension of the market (mutual gains); a legal-constitutional dimension (law-following); and the dimension of market exchange (ethical capital creation). Social benefits are not only aspired to but also are achievable as a business case approach to CSR is followed.


The paper’s main contribution is a new synthesis of economics and ethics that yields an “integrative CSR economics”.



The revision of the paper greatly benefitted from feedback of the referees of SRJ. Earlier versions of the paper were presented at two British Academy of Management (BAM) conferences, at the University of Portsmouth, September 2015, and at the University of Newcastle, September 2016. Feedback of the referees and participants of the BAM conferences are gratefully acknowledged too.


Wagner-Tsukamoto, S. (2019), "In search of ethics: from Carroll to integrative CSR economics", Social Responsibility Journal, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 469-491.



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