Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often understood as the voluntary actions firms take beyond legal compliance. However, in recent years, governments around the world have also begun to actively promote CSR, reflecting broader governance trends that embrace “soft law,” quasi-voluntary standards, and other novel incentives to move companies toward and beyond minimum regulatory goals. Comparative legal scholarship has only recently begun to consider the intersections of these mechanisms with positive law, formal institutions, and traditional regulatory enforcement structures. The adoption of these policies in historically weak regulatory environments raises puzzling questions about their motivation, scope, and potential.
As a leader among emerging markets, China offers an important context in which to consider state CSR policies and the role of alternative regulatory tools in legal implementation. This Article adopts a comparative perspective to examine how national and subnational governments in China advance CSR. Based on primary interview data, it develops a state-centric model of CSR that contrasts with the market-based model adopted by U.S. governments and the relational model advanced by EU member states. The Article concludes by considering the implications of state-centric CSR initiatives for norm creation and legal implementation.