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Article

Swati Srivastava

Transnational corporations (TNCs) have assumed a greater share of global power vis-à-vis states. Thus, understanding how to assign corporate responsibility has become more urgent for scholars in international studies. Are corporations fit to be held responsible? If so, what are the existing ways of doing so? There are three research themes on conceptualizing corporate responsibility: (a) corporate criminal liability, in which corporations are assigned responsibility by determining criminal intent and liability in domestic law; (b) corporate social responsibility (CSR), in which corporations are assigned responsibility through praise and blame for adopting voluntary standards that conform with societal values; and (c) corporate international responsibility, a subset of CSR in which corporations are assigned responsibility by hardening international law, especially in human rights and the environment. The three themes feature research on corporate responsibility across a variety of disciplines, including law, criminology, global governance, sociology, business, and critical theory. Each theme prioritizes different debates and questions for research. For corporate criminal liability, the most important questions are about corporate intent in assigning blame for criminal behavior and how to deal with corporate criminal liability in domestic law. For CSR, the most important questions are about determining what obligations corporations take on as part of their social compact, how to track progress, and whether CSR leads to nonsymbolic corporate reforms. For corporate international responsibility, the most important questions are articulating on what grounds corporations should be held responsible for transnational violations of CSR obligations in state-based public international law or contract-based private international law. There are a range of ways to evaluate corporate responsibility in the three research themes. As such, the future of conceptualizing TNCs’ responsibility is diverse and open for examination by scholars of international studies.