A key debate in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) literature is the tension between global pressures and local responses. Developing country suppliers often grumble that CSR compliance adds costs. Yet, local collective action, articulated through industry associations, can potentially reduce costs and promote local embeddedness of CSR initiatives. Through case study analysis, this paper considers how demands for CSR compliance prompted collective action responses in selected developing country export industries. We argue that differences in collective responses can be partially explained by how local export industries are inserted into global value chains. We distinguish between ‘highly visible’ value chains, led by internationally well known brands as lead firms, and relatively ‘less visible’ chains, where external CSR pressures come from a variety of sources, including less dominant lead firms, international/national regulatory frameworks and national media. This differentiation suggests a possible trade-off between the independence and the embeddedness of collective CSR initiatives.