Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Can Collusion Promote Corporate Social Responsibility? Evidence from the Lab

Francisco Gomez-Martinez, Universidad Carlos III Madrid, Sander Onderstal, University of Amsterdam; Tinbergen Institute, and Maarten Pieter Schinkel, University of Amsterdam - Department of Economics; Tinbergen Institute - Tinbergen Institute Amsterdam (TIA) ask Can Collusion Promote Corporate Social Responsibility? Evidence from the Lab.

ABSTRACT: Competition has been argued to erode socially responsible behavior in markets, suggesting that allowing cartel agreements among firms may promote public interest objectives. We test this idea in a laboratory experiment. Participants playing the role of firms choose between offering a ‘fair’ and an ‘unfair’ good to a consumer participant. When the unfair good is traded, a negative externality is imposed on a third party. We vary whether or not the firms are allowed to coordinate on the type of good they sell. We find that the opportunity to coordinate has no significant impact on the fraction of fair goods traded on the market, but polarizes: more of the same good, fair or unfair, is offered. Consumer surplus and profit are, on average, not affected. Irrespective of whether coordination between firms is allowed, participants are more likely to trade the fair good, the stronger their third-party preferences are. These findings suggest that both consumer and managerial values are more important drivers of socially responsible behavior than opportunities for firms to coordinate their CSR activities. We highlight implications for competition policy, where cartels may be exempted on CSR grounds.

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