OPINION – Sociology of Worth and Corporate Social Responsibility: Post COVID-19

During this “pandemic” while everyone is locked down at home, I was invited by the Rui Cunha Foundation in April to be one of the speakers at their very first webinar entitled “Macau’s Gaming Industry Beyond COVID-19”. I presented my viewpoints through a sociological lens to review the “pre-COVID-19” and possibly what could be “post-COVID-19” response for the gaming industry. Readers might already be aware of the stance of the SAR Government concerning the gaming operators’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) performance through statements by the Chief Executive during this time of crisis.  

By Carlos Noronha 

Vice Chairman, Executive Council, Macau Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility in Greater China (MICSRGC)  

The objective of this article is twofold. Firstly, to explain why a sociological perspective is appropriate to review this incident and secondly to further question whether we really understand the concept of CSR in this new normal. 

First, I would like to invite readers to the little universe of accounting research. Apart from the “conventional” research methodology of capital market studies, we accountants, take an alternative approach to the field, whether as a phenomenon or a means to an end. The works of Karl Marx (Capital), Michel Foucault (Prison), Bruno Latour (Actor Network Theory) have been favorites in accounting research from the sociological and philosophical viewpoints. It is interesting to note that recently, in the US, capital market researchers have just recognized a social issue from this COVID-19 crisis and they are reacting toward the sociological aspect of accounting, which is itself mainly a “man-made” world. 

I took a bold attempt to borrow from the research conducted by Stephanie Perkiss and Lee Moerman who have investigated the function of accounting pre, during and post the Katrina devastation which took away so many lives in 1994 in Louisiana. Their lens of analysis was from the French sociologists Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot who stated that the order of things and worth can be categorized into the so called six worlds. They are worlds or polities represented by the “inspired world”, the “domestic world”, the world of “fame”, the “civic world”, the “market world” and the “industrial world”. Every world is founded based on canonical writings ranging from Saint Augustine to Adam Smith, from religious studies to the economic realm. An astute reader may be aware that each world, as mentioned above, may function or may be perceived in very different ways. The domestic world may coincide with the industrial world before Katrina, and the civic world may have clashed with the market world post-Katrina. And as such, theoretical explanations of social and market behaviors could be formulated. 

Using this theory, I tried to juxtapose the order of things and worth in terms of the gaming industry pre, during and post COVID-19. A thorough investigation remains to be elaborated further. However, it could be considered that the viral crisis has not only caused conflicts and what I called “cracks” between the domestic, civic, market and industrial worlds, but a “new normal” has been formed through such clashes and cracks. 

The gaming industry itself is known to be controversial and therefore, CSR activities such as charitable donations are readily undertaken by these operators with very deep pockets (although they have suffered an over 90% drop in revenue). But under this “new normal” created by the different “worlds” and various “worths”, do we (often notoriously known as partakers of wealth) and the operators, the government and interpreters understand the new meaning of CSR? For example, in the words of Boltanski and Thevenot, “in the world of fame people may impose an order on beings and reach agreement in a just world by taking only the opinion of others into account. It is opinion that established equivalences…”.  

During the time of crisis, we have been bombarded by news of gaming operators donating cash, medical supplies and the like to governments, local as well as mainland entities, while only a few spectators of this CSR challenge have noticed the issues of labor and family protection and the pressures faced by the minorities, such as imported workers, as well as the status of the “bargaining powers” of those employed by the industry.  

The case of post-COVID-19 has established a new way of thinking and a new order of “worths” across the different worlds. This presents a valid case for the gaming operators to balance their balance sheets in terms of the inspired, domestic, civic, market and industrial worlds, and of course, the world of fame.