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.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a legitimate responsibility to society, based on the principle that corporations should share some of the benefit that accrues from the control of vast resources. CSR goes beyond the legal, ethical, and financial obligations that create profits. In the research literature, corporate social responsibility is defined in a variety of ways, depending on the aspect of CSR being examined. An inclusive definition is that social responsibility requires the firm to take into account the interests of all stakeholders, where stakeholders are defined as everyone who affects or is affected by the firm’s decisions and actions. A firm-focused definition holds that social responsibility includes actions that further a social goal, beyond what is required by ethics, law, and profitability. A political economy–oriented definition posits that firms have a responsibility to correct market failures such as negative externalities and government failures such as limits to jurisdiction that result in worker rights violations. When implemented, altruistic CSR implies that firms provide a social good unrelated to the firms’ business that does not benefit the bottom line. Strategic CSR implies that firms are simultaneously profitable and socially responsible. To achieve this, CSR must be a core value of the firm and must be integrated into processes and products. When employed strategically, CSR can be an element of a differentiation strategy, leading to premium prices, enhanced brand and firm reputation, and supportive community relations. Corporate environmental responsibility often takes the form of overcompliance with regulation, improving the environment more than is required. A primary benefit of this is to stave off further regulation. To capture the benefits of being socially responsible, the firm must make stakeholders aware of its record. This has led to triple bottom line reporting—that is, reporting about firm performance in terms of profits, people, and the planet. Social enterprises go a step further and make social responsibility the primary goal of the organization.
Thomas Donaldson and Diana C. Robertson
Serious research into corporate ethics is nearly half a century old. Two approaches have dominated research; one is normative, the other empirical. The former, the normative approach, develops theories and norms that are prescriptive, that is, ones that are designed to guide corporate behavior. The latter, the empirical approach, investigates the character and causes of corporate behavior by examining corporate governance structures, policies, corporate relationships, and managerial behavior with the aim of explaining and predicting corporate behavior. Normative research has been led by scholars in the fields of moral philosophy, theology and legal theory. Empirical research has been led by scholars in the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, marketing, finance, and management. While utilizing distinct methods, the two approaches are symbiotic. Ethical and legal theory are irrelevant without factual context. Similarly, empirical theories are sterile unless translated into corporate guidance. The following description of the history of research in corporate ethics demonstrates that normative research methods are indispensable tools for empirical inquiry, even as empirical methods are indispensable tools for normative inquiry.
Sulaman Hafeez Siddiqui, Kuperan Viswanathan, and Rabia Rasheed
Leadership in business and society is responsible for a large part of the decision-making related to policymaking and resource allocation that in turn influences social and environmental outcomes and economic windfalls. The theory and practice of education and learning in business schools is being called on for reforms in order to nurture responsible leadership for business and society that may align well with the triple bottom-line challenge of sustainability (i.e., economic, social, and environmental). We can find state-of-the-art research studies from definition to historical evolution and dimensions of responsible leadership specifically related to corporate sustainability. The role of curriculum design is central to enabling business schools to nurture responsible leaders who are considerate toward the external effects of their internal decision-making, thus seeking to balance the broader stakeholders’ objectives. Several global initiatives have been undertaken by multilateral institutions such as the UN, business schools, and enterprises in the corporate sector to foster a commitment to responsible leadership and allied reforms in teaching in business schools regarding corporate sustainability. These forums, at both the corporate and academic fronts, have contributed to theoretical development and practices for teaching and learning related to responsible leadership in higher education, specifically in business schools. These initiatives stress that business schools and their academic faculty, who intend to serve as custodians of business and society, must make necessary curriculum reforms to meet the challenges of sustainability by embracing their own transformation.
Ante Glavas and Mislav Radic
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an important topic for both academics and practitioners because it potentially influences all aspects of an organization—from relationships with stakeholders to strategy to daily routines and practices. Thus, scholars have explored CSR for close to one hundred years. Prior research has been primarily conducted at the organizational and institutional levels, but has largely overlooked the individual-level of analysis, which is a major gap considering that CSR is enacted by and influences people. Recently, this gap has been addressed by an increased focus on the individual level of analysis—also known as “micro-CSR.” However, CSR is a multilevel construct, so even when focusing on the individual level, all levels need to be taken into consideration at the same time. Moreover, CSR is cross-disciplinary. Prior research has often focused on disciplines such as strategy, but fields such as psychology have much to offer—especially because CSR is conducted through and affects individuals. Moreover, due to the historical focus of CSR on the organizational level of analysis, most studies have aggregated CSR to the firm level. These studies have shown mixed results of the effects of CSR. One reason is that when CSR is aggregated, the variance at the individual level of analysis is lost. Employees might react both positively and negatively to CSR. For example, CSR is often extra-role (e.g., volunteering, being part of committees) and can have a negative effect of role strain and stress. For other employees, they might find tension with the way that CSR is carried out. Future research could dive more deeply into the psychology of CSR and how, when, and why employees might react to CSR differently.
Anthropologists have been studying the relationship between mining and the local forms of community that it has created or impacted since at least the 1930s. While the focus of these inquiries has moved with the times, reflecting different political, theoretical, and methodological priorities, much of this work has concentrated on local manifestations of the so-called resource curse or the paradox of plenty. Anthropologists are not the only social scientists who have tried to understand the social, cultural, political, and economic processes that accompany mining and other forms of resource development, including oil and gas extraction. Geographers, economists, and political scientists are among the many different disciplines involved in this field of research. Nor have anthropologists maintained an exclusive claim over the use of ethnographic methods to study the effects of large- or small-scale resource extraction. But anthropologists have generally had a lot more to say about mining and the extractives in general when it has involved people of non-European descent, especially exploited subalterns—peasants, workers, and Indigenous peoples. The relationship between mining and Indigenous people has always been complex. At the most basic level, this stems from the conflicting relationship that miners and Indigenous people have to the land and resources that are the focus of extractive activities, or what Marx would call the different relations to the means of production. Where miners see ore bodies and development opportunities that render landscapes productive, civilized, and familiar, local Indigenous communities see places of ancestral connection and subsistence provision. This simple binary is frequently reinforced—and somewhat overdrawn—in the popular characterization of the relationship between Indigenous people and mining companies, where untrammeled capital devastates hapless tribal people, or what has been aptly described as the “Avatar narrative” after the 2009 film of the same name. By the early 21st century, many anthropologists were producing ethnographic works that sought to debunk popular narratives that obscure the more complex sets of relationships existing between the cast of different actors who are present in contemporary mining encounters and the range of contradictory interests and identities that these actors may hold at any one point in time. Resource extraction has a way of surfacing the “politics of indigeneity,” and anthropologists have paid particular attention to the range of identities, entities, and relationships that emerge in response to new economic opportunities, or what can be called the “social relations of compensation.” That some Indigenous communities deliberately court resource developers as a pathway to economic development does not, of course, deny the asymmetries of power inherent to these settings: even when Indigenous communities voluntarily agree to resource extraction, they are seldom signing up to absorb the full range of social and ecological costs that extractive companies so frequently externalize. These imposed costs are rarely balanced by the opportunities to share in the wealth created by mineral development, and for most Indigenous people, their experience of large-scale resource extraction has been frustrating and often highly destructive. It is for good reason that analogies are regularly drawn between these deals and the vast store of mythology concerning the person who sells their soul to the devil for wealth that is not only fleeting, but also the harbinger of despair, destruction, and death. This is no easy terrain for ethnographers, and engagement is fraught with difficult ethical, methodological, and ontological challenges. Anthropologists are involved in these encounters in a variety of ways—as engaged or activist anthropologists, applied researchers and consultants, and independent ethnographers. The focus of these engagements includes environmental transformation and social disintegration, questions surrounding sustainable development (or the uneven distribution of the costs and benefits of mining), company–community agreement making, corporate forms and the social responsibilities of corporations (or “CSR”), labor and livelihoods, conflict and resistance movements, gendered impacts, cultural heritage management, questions of indigeneity, and displacement effects, to name but a few. These different forms of engagement raise important questions concerning positionality and how this influences the production of knowledge—an issue that has divided anthropologists working in this contested field. Anthropologists must also grapple with questions concerning good ethnography, or what constitutes a “good enough” account of the relations between Indigenous people and the multiple actors assembled in resource extraction contexts.