Better than Rational : Rethinking Corporate Self-Interest in Collective Action contributing to Sustainable Development

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http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-201703271973
Title: Better than Rational : Rethinking Corporate Self-Interest in Collective Action contributing to Sustainable Development
Author: Tabarracci, Daniela Andrea
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta, Politiikan ja talouden tutkimuksen laitos
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political and Economic Studies
Helsingfors universitet, Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för politik och ekonomi
Publisher: Helsingfors universitet
Date: 2012
Language: eng
URI: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:hulib-201703271973
http://hdl.handle.net/10138/34177
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Political Science, World Politics
Yleinen valtio-oppi, maailmanpolitiikan tutkimus
Allmän statslära, forskning i världspolitik
Abstract: In 1987, the United Nations concerned with global challenges to human development called for a new model of growth to be erected upon the notion of sustainable development. Today, twenty five years later, the world continues to be beset by these global challenges and a governance gap around this issue has become manifest. Overtime, the international community came to the realization that, first, tackling these challenges requires the collective action of a multiplicity of relevant actors. And second, that the private sector, with its resources, know-how, experience and jurisdiction, could have a pivotal role to play to this end. The problem with these assumptions was the scepticism generated by mainstream interpretations of corporate nature and rationality. Despite the potential for contribution, corporations as self-interested agents in the struggle for the maximization of individual advantage could not be expected to contribute to the promotion of sustainable development; let alone through collective action. And yet contemporary evidence shows, that this scepticism is unwarranted. For that reason, the main purpose of this descriptive study was to account for the existing cases of collective action, and identify by listening to corporate actors, what was the rationale that underpinned their decisions to engage in these forms of collective action. In doing so, the aim was to assess the current suitability of mainstream approaches to reflect reality. Because of that, special attention was devoted to the notion of corporate self-interest (the key concept used by mainstream approaches to nurture the egoistic interpretation of the corporate actor). In listening to corporate actors two related qualitative analyses were conducted. On the one hand, a set of archival material - corporate responsibility reports and codes of conduct - was approached through a story-line narrative technique the purpose of which was to set the contextual and notional framework for the content analysis of interview transcripts that was to follow. On the other hand, semi-structured elite interviews were conducted on corporate executives of four transnational corporations, all of which are leaders in their respective industries and have a record of collective action that contributes to sustainable development. These corporations were Novartis, UPM, Tetra-Pak and Nokia and the overall purpose of the analytical chapter has been learn from corporate actors themselves what drove them to engage in these forms of collective action. At first glance the results of the analyses revealed that the rationale behind corporate engagement, continued to be explained by reference to corporate self-interest; just as mainstream approaches suggested. However, the point of divergence between these two interpretations was to be found in the way corporate self-interest was defined. According to mainstream approaches, corporate self-interest was defined in terms of profit maximization. Conversely, the findings unveiled in this study highlight the necessity to separate interests (instrumental reasons) from corporate self-interest (teleological reasons). In line with that differentiation, self-interest is defined as long-term survival, and all other interests are interpreted as instrumental to it. These findings have encouraging implications on the relevance of mainstream approaches to represent. Insofar a reassessment of the notion of corporate self-interest is undertaken to account for teleological reasons as distinct from instrumental reasons, mainstream approaches would be able to provide a fairer account of contemporary circumstances than they do today. In the absence of such an update, not only do they run the risk of not being able to reflect reality and becoming irrelevant, but they would also run the risk of rendering themselves unsuitable to account for changes in behaviours and interests, ultimately, downplaying rather than strengthening the rationality of actors. All in all, if what unrevised mainstream standards provide us with is an account for corporate rational behaviour, then what this study contributes is the possibility of moving past scepticism and understanding the potential for corporate behaviour to be better than rational.
Subject: sustainable development
mainstream
global collective goods
collective action
corporate self-interest
survival
profit
instrumental reasons
teleological reasons
kollektiivinen toiminta
valtavirtaistaminen


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