This paper explores the relative importance of global forces and national political-economic institutions for companies' willingness and ability to engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR). The globalist hypothesis postulates that a company's CSR efforts are a function of the dictates of the global market place: strong anti-globalization and anti-corporate sentiments generate a need for a positive reputation to obtain a ‘social license to operate’. The institutionalist hypothesis postulates that a company's CSR efforts are a function of institutional factors in the national political-economic system: companies based in political-economic systems with strong institutions for social embedding of the economy have comparative institutional advantages for success in CSR. The hypotheses are examined quantitatively by testing an index of national CSR performance against well-established political-economic indicators. The final analysis, based on qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), reveals causal heterogeneity and indicates two separate pathways leading to CSR success.