Proto-CSR Before the Industrial Revolution: Institutional Experimentation by Medieval Miners’ Guilds

Stefan Hielscher, Bryan W. Husted

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, we argue that antecedents of modern corporate social responsibility (CSR) prior to the Industrial Revolution can be referred to as “proto-CSR” to describe a practice that influenced modern CSR, but which is different from its modern counterparts in form and structure. We develop our argument with the history of miners’ guilds in medieval Germany—religious fraternities and secular mutual aid societies. Based on historical data collected by historians and archeologists, we reconstruct a long-term process of pragmatic experimentation with institutions of mutual aid that address social problems in the early mining industry, and thus before the rise of the modern state and the capitalist firm. Co-shaped by economic and political actors, these institutions of mutual aid have influenced the social responsibility programs of early industrialists, modern social welfare legislation, and contemporary CSR. We conjecture that other elements of proto-CSR might have evolved according to similar trajectories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-269
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Early online date7 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • History of CSR practice
  • Miners’ guild
  • Proto-CSR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Law


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