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Chinese CSR standards and industrial policy in GPNs

Corinna Braun-Munzinger (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Eschborn, Germany)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 5 July 2019

Issue publication date: 22 April 2020




Public policy to promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be a tool used by the state to promote the creation of social value by multinational enterprises (MNEs) and their global suppliers. Yet, this aspect has been little explored in the literature on social value creation in international business. While there is a substantial literature on the interactions of public and private regulation of firm behaviour in the global economy, little is known about the emergence of local institutional environments aimed at creating social value from MNE activities. This paper aims to address this gap in the literature.


Conceptually, the paper draws on the literatures on global production networks (GPNs) and on institutional approaches to CSR to grasp the local institutional environment for social value creation in MNEs and their suppliers. Empirically, the case of China is examined based on a review of literature, policy documents and interviews. The key questions the paper seeks to address is as follows: How can the emergence of local Chinese CSR standards be explained? How does the emergence of such CSR standards fit into wider policy objectives in the context of Chinese export-oriented growth?


The paper argues that the emergence of CSR standards in China needs to be seen in the context of changing industrial policy objectives to enhance both the social and economic value of participation in GPNs. Specifically, the evolution of Chinese CSR standards corresponds to a shift from structural towards functional coupling in GPNs, associated with increased policy attention on enhancing local skills and technology. Taking the case of the textile and apparel sector as an example, the paper illustrates how the adoption of China’s first CSR management system has taken place in a context of shifting strategic coupling objectives.

Research limitations/implications

A lack of data does not allow any conclusions on the impact of the Chinese institutional environment on social value creation and economic upgrading at firm level. This question could be addressed in further research. In addition, the findings open new questions around possible synergies between local policies and MNE efforts on sustainability. Increasing cooperation between Chinese and international standard setters around CSR opens the question of whether this leads to a convergence of horizontal and vertical governance on sustainability in the apparel GPN.

Practical implications

Findings show that there may be a window of opportunity for international practitioners to seek further dialogue with Chinese actors around promoting socially and environmentally sustainable business in a global economy.


The paper contributes to a better understanding of changes in the institutional environment for social value creation for MNEs and their suppliers in a key emerging economy. It illustrates how institutional approaches to CSR and the GPN framework can be combined to grasp the institutional environment for social value creation in an international business context.



This paper is based on the author’s PhD research at The University of Manchester’s Global Development Institute, funded through a studentship by the Faculty of Humanities, University of Manchester, and a fieldwork grant by the Universities’ China Committee London.

Braun-Munzinger, C. (2018) “Business Associations and the Governance of Sustainability Standards in Global Production Networks: The case of the CSC9000T standard in the Chinese apparel sector”, PhD thesis, The University of Manchester, available at:

Disclaimer: The research was done at University of Manchester. Since then author have changed jobs and work at GIZ now.


Braun-Munzinger, C. (2020), "Chinese CSR standards and industrial policy in GPNs", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 165-185.



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