The adjective “implicit” was the subject of the last post. The word had been used in a cinematographic context, but it goes without saying that its use is quite frequent in ordinary language. “Implicit” often signals the revelation of hidden things, as is stated in this definition: “involved in the nature or essence of something though not revealed, expressed, or developed” (1). Such a meaning fits multiple contexts. While it is moderately mentioned in business ethics as a leading concept, it has been remarkably so in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR), especially in a research paper which compared two kinds of CSR: the implicit and the explicit. But what meaning did its authors give to the “implicit”? There is something convenient and practical about the concept of “implicit.” One of its most notable virtues is to bring out the assumptions that hide behind an assertion. In scientific or philosophical arguments, for example, one often finds such observations as: “There is an implicit assumption behind this author’s claim.” Sometimes, the implicit assumption reveals a connection between concepts that are, a priori, incompatible, as in the following sentence by Robert Solomon, where “assumes” and “underlying” are equivalent to “implicit”: “[…] Our seemingly all-important concept of competition presumes, but it does not replace, an underlying assumption of mutual interest and cooperation” (2). A presupposition is a necessary condition of what is claimed, that is, a condition such that, if it were no longer to count as a necessary condition, our argument would collapse. Sometimes, moreover, the revelation of an implicit assumption (a presupposition that the researcher, for example, failed to point out in his presentation or even ignored, considering “implicitly” that it was self-evident – or considering nothing at all) has a critical purpose, the revelation aiming at undermining the theoretical edifice at issue. It also happens that the “implicit” is simply used to describe reality. Here there is no critical intention behind its use, rather a way to bring out an enlightening distinction. For example, when reflecting upon or discussing about competition within corporations or between corporations, an implicit assumption may lie in the background, ready, so to speak, to be activated: the assumption that cooperation is a necessary ingredient in economic life, especially within organisations. Thus, Solomon says, “a corporation that encourages mutual cooperation and encourages individual excellence as an essential part of teamwork is very different to a corporation which incites ‘either/or’ competition, antagonism, and continuous jostling for status and recognition” (3). In an article focused on the concept of CSR, Dirk Matten and Jeremy Moon proposed using the implicit/explicit distinction to analyse how European and US firms describe their commitments in this area (4). Thus, implicit CSR, which is specific to European companies, “refer[s] to corporations’ role within the wider formal and informal institutions for society’s interests and concerns.” Companies’ activities must be understood as an integral part of a set of values and norms which are defined in the outside, i.e., within the collective order to which they belong. As the authors observe, the CSR standards and rules are explicit here, not how they are implemented by firms themselves. The CSR they practise is a form of “reaction to, or reflection of, [their] institutional environment.” Finally, what motivates European firms to invest in CSR (beyond compliance with legal obligations) is the search for consensus within society. By contrast, the American model of CSR is explicit. Firms have the initiative for corporate social responsibility policies that they consider useful to society. Their actions in this field are voluntary, even if they depend on their stakeholders’ expectations – but they are motivated by those expectations, which firms strive to identify. If American firms’ explicit CSR reflects anything, it is the economic freedom allowed by the institutional system (national business system) to which they belong. In the United States, this is a liberal market system, whereas the European market is of a “coordinated” kind, to use Matten and Moon’s word. They do not fail to point out that European firms, when describing their CSR policies, tend to come closer to American firms, but this evolution is precisely the sign of a change in institutional, political and economic systems. Were Matten and Moon right to use the implicit/explicit distinction to describe the two dimensions of their model? The answer seems to be positive because the authors situate the application of the distinction at the levels of language and description. But from a substantial point of view, that of actual CSR practices, the implicit/explicit distinction would not have been relevant, as practical differences between American CSR and European CSR do not seem to fall easily under the implicit/explicit distinction. Naturally, being at a descriptive level is not useless, even if the scope of Matten and Moon’s work can appear essentially explanatory, i.e. beyond a plain description, for example when it comes to identifying and analysing the institutional foundations of CSR (5). The use of terms is more questionable when Matten and Moon suggest that there is an implicit paradigm and an explicit paradigm of CSR – the latter, which has their preference, emphasises firms’ genuine commitment to CSR, their involvement in the institutional sphere and their participation in the definition of public policies. I intentionally use the word “paradigm,” but it is noteworthy that the authors do not use it in the presentation of their argument. They use the word “model.” However, “paradigm” is clearly mentioned in a recent article in the Journal of Business Ethics about implicit CSR (6). A “paradigm” has a wider scope, and is far more inclusive than a “model” (7). For example, with respect to Matten and Moon’s concern, it would include what is “implicit” in the cultural and institutional environments in which firms operate. But Matten and Moon’s analysis doesn’t go beyond the “implications” of social norms or rules for CSR (8). This is a pity because, after all, the implicit/explicit distinction could also apply, in a pertinent manner, to these social norms or rules in order to account for the so-called explicit and implicit CSR. Alain Anquetil (1) Source: Merriam-Webster. (2) R. C. Solomon, “Corporate roles, personal virtues: An Aristotelean approach to business ethics,” Business Ethics Quarterly, 2(3), 1992, p. 317-339. (3) R. C. Solomon, Ethics and excellence. Cooperation and integrity in business, New York, Oxford University Press, 1992. (4) D. Matten and J. Moon, “’Implicit’ and ‘explicit’ CSR: A conceptual framework for a comparative understanding of corporate social responsibility,” Academy of Management Review, 2008, 33(2), p. 404-424. (5) In the “Implications for Future Research,” Matten and Moon draw a distinction between three levels, which are quite common in the business ethics and CSR fields: descriptive, instrumental, and normative. By “descriptive level,” I don’t refer to this distinction; I am concerned with their approach and the tone of their article. (6) S.G. Carson, Ø. Hagen and S. Prakash Sethi, “From implicit to explicit CSR in a Scandinavian context: The cases of HAG and Hydro,” Journal of Business Ethics, 127, 2015, p. 17-31. Of course, the authors refer to the Matten and Moon’s model. (7) According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a paradigm is “a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated,” whereas model refers here to “a description or analogy used to help visualize something (such as an atom) that cannot be directly observed.” (8) “Many of the elements of implicit CSR occur in the form of codified norms, rules, and laws but are not conventionally described explicitly as CSR. It is the societal norms, networks, organizations, and rules that are explicit, rather than their implications for the social responsibilities of business. It is in this sense that CSR in these systems is implicit.” (Matten and Moon, op. cit.)        

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