The Politics of Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights Due Diligence

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Title: The Politics of Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights Due Diligence
Alternative title: Yritysvastuun politiikka ja ihmisoikeuksia koskeva asianmukainen huolellisuus
Author: Eriksson, Sanna
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta, Sosiaalitieteiden laitos
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Research (2010-2017)
Helsingfors universitet, Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för socialvetenskap
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2020
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Sosiaali- ja kulttuuriantropologia
Social and Cultural Anthropology
Social- och kulturantropologi
Abstract: The thesis looks at corporate social responsibility and its political discourse in Finland. Corporate social responsibility has gained a lot of public attention during the last decades. Especially the unethical behaviour of multinational corporations has increased the demands for corporate accountability. Anthropologists have observed the chameleon-like character of corporate social responsibility phenomenon. The phenomenon seems to always transform according to the criticism it receives. Thus, anthropologists have questioned the efficiency of corporate social responsibility in addressing the social and global problems caused by corporations. Lately there has been increasing demands to legislate corporate social responsibility. The purpose of this thesis is to analyse the current public discourse on the legalisation of corporate social responsibility, and to discuss whether there is a possibility that this discourse will facilitate change in corporate behaviour. By examining this latest shift in the corporate social responsibility discourse, the thesis also critically evaluates the existing anthropological research on corporate social responsibility. The thesis is based on an ethnographic fieldwork that has been conducted in different public events addressing corporate social responsibility in Helsinki, Finland. The fieldwork was conducted between October 2018 and November 2019. The data for this thesis has been gathered through participant observation, unofficial discussions, online ethnography and the international policy documents underlying the discourse, such as UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The data is analysed through the existing anthropological research on corporate social responsibility. But in order to gain new insights, this thesis draws also from other anthropological research that has addressed global governance. By drawing from the existing anthropological research on corporate social responsibility, the thesis argues that the global guidelines underlying the current discourse aim to establish a symbolic authority on the issue of corporate responsibility to respect human rights. But these guidelines do not set any strict requirements on corporations as they are voluntary. Instead, they promote a post-political ideology of collaborative action and consensus. But the thesis suggests that instead of foreclosing the political discussion on controversial topics, these guidelines actually move political conflicts into other locations. The thesis shows how corporations and other actors in the society negotiate the norms for corporate behaviour. It shows how Finnish corporations appeal to their size in order to displace and diminish their responsibility. However, this thesis argues that also other actors than corporations displace responsibility according to their interests, which is contrary to what the previous anthropological research has suggested. But simultaneously the actors aim to build consensus through partnerships, business case reasoning and development rhetoric, whose discursive power has already been recognised by the existing anthropological research. But the thesis suggests that, in addition to these, the actors in Finland build consensus through national rhetoric and by appearing morally higher and more conscientious than actors outside of Finland. Thus the discourse in Finland frames the issue of corporate respect for human rights as a cultural problem. To address this cultural problem, corporations embrace the development discourse, and thus human rights education is framed as the corporate responsibility of the Finnish corporations. The thesis has also shows how the discourse on the possible law is dominated by the practical problem of making the law. Thus, the thesis suggests that there is a risk that the law will not have much sanctioning power. The corporations can strategically utilise the human rights due diligence process to discharge responsibility, as they can show that they are trying to address the issues in their supply chains. Despite of the critical analysis of the current discourse, the thesis has argued that the public corporate social responsibility discourse, guidelines and legal technologies nonetheless foster change and increase ethical awareness of the corporations. Thus, the thesis argues that the existing anthropological research on corporate social responsibility has been too preoccupied with the focus on the discourse and practices of multinational corporations and the topics of power and inequality. These perspectives have resulted in overly critical analysis that assumes that the corporate social responsibility discourse always privileges corporations. Thus, the thesis argues that the existing anthropological research on corporate social responsibility diminishes the transformative capabilities of corporate social responsibility discourse and practice.
Subject: corporate social responsibility
due diligence
global governance

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