Tag Archives: corporate social responsibility

2SER Radio Interview – The Myth of the Social License to Operate

In this radio interview on 2SER, I discuss the chapter published in the “Research Handbook on the Sociology of Organizations” on “Organizational Legitimacy and Legitimizing Myths.”  It suggests that companies, as an influential and dominant group, want to maintain how they are held to account for their social and environmental impacts, which is through market forces. The research contends that the social license to operate and other concepts such as corporate purpose are hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths that uphold this status quo in favour of companies, at the detriment of society.

The Myth of the Social License to Operate

Over the last two decades many of the world’s largest companies have been involved in scandals, misconduct and dubious ethics. Rather than relying on interventions by public authorities, the dominant governing rationality is informed by the belief that the market is able to balance social, environmental, and financial interests. However, the vast majority of companies that have been involved in ethical transgressions have survived – and have even thrived. Potential damage to the reputation of companies, or threats to their ‘social license to operate’, seems to have had a limited effect. There is therefore reason to believe that market forces are not adequate by themselves to correct corporate misbehaviour.

This chapter from the upcoming ‘Research Handbook on the Sociology of Organizations’ explores the reliance on market forces to correct corporate actions that are not aligned with the common good. It examines to what extent legitimacy theory adequately explains the dynamics around organizational legitimacy, and it proposes an expansion of legitimacy theory to increase its explanatory power: the use of social dominance theory and legitimizing myths expands (organizational) legitimacy as a theoretical construct. In explaining why antagonistic stakeholders continue to rely on market-based approaches, this research suggests that they have either bought into the hierarchy-enhancing myths, or they have not yet developed compelling hierarchy-attenuating myths to challenge the status quo. The chapter concludes with the suggestion that the ‘social license to operate’ and ‘corporate purpose’ are legitimizing myths that uphold the idea that the market can balance social, environmental, and financial interests.

Boersma - Organizational legitimacy and legitimizing myths

Political investorism: Conceptualising the political participation of shareholders and investors

This article establishes a new basis for examining the participation, mobilisation and impact of investors at a time when market-based activism for social change is rising in prominence. Existing terminology describing the expression of political values through investment decisions lacks conceptual clarity. Political participation by shareholders and other investors is variously described as shareholder activism or socially responsible investment, and currently conceptualised under the banner of political consumerism. However, this term fails to capture the unique political role and diverse actions of investors. We put forward ‘political investorism’ as a cohering term for investment-based political participation to remedy existing conceptual confusion, to distinguish between investors and consumers as political actors and to set an agenda for the future study of market-based activism. This article defines and develops the concept of political investorism, drawing upon illustrative cases from Australia to identify hallmarks, actors and tactics of this form of political participation.

O’Brien et al. - 2022 - Political investorism Conceptualising the politic

Consultation on Modern Slavery and Worker Exploitation (New Zealand)

Modern slavery and worker exploitation are severe types of exploitation that can be found both internationally and in New Zealand. To address these behaviours, significant collaboration between government agencies as well as civil society, corporations, trade unions, academics, and international partners is needed.

The New Zealand Government sought feedback on a new law aimed at addressing modern slavery and worker exploitation in New Zealand and around the world. The law would introduce new obligations for organisations with operations and supply chains in New Zealand. Below is a submission made by academics and representatives from civil society that work on modern slavery and labour exploitation.

Consultation on Modern Slavery and Worker Exploitation - Bhakoo, Boersma, McGaughey, Nolan, Sinclair

 

Paper Promises? Examining Australia’s Modern Slavery Act

Two years into its operation, close to 4,000 statements have now been published on the government’s modern slavery register. Yet the extent to which the legislation is transforming business practices or making a tangible difference to the lives of workers remains highly uncertain. This report analyses 102 company statements published in the first reporting cycle of the MSA, to evaluate how many companies are starting to implement effective measures to address modern slavery and how many are lagging.

This report is part of a two-year collaborative research project by academics and civil society organisations aimed at improving responses to modern slavery and access to remedy for affected workers.

Paper Promises

Modern Slavery and the Employment Relationship: Defining the Continuum of Exploitation

The Special Issue on ‘Modern Slavery and the Employment Relationship: Defining the Continuum of Exploitation’ in the Journal of Industrial Relations is now available online. The Special Issue focuses on what the large- and small-scale risk factors are that can cause working conditions to deteriorate, on how people can become trapped in exploitative conditions, and on what can be done to prevent and remedy labour abuses. Included articles explore the macro-level, specifically by examining global value chains and the labour exploitation within the global production regime and by examining the producer-end (rather than buyer end) of value chains and the responsibilities of companies for working conditions further downstream (rather than upstream) in the value chain. Other articles explore the market-based character of business and human rights regulation. One article concludes that market enforcement of modern slavery regulation is sub-optimal and should include $ penalties and a public regulator while another article asks whether business and human rights regulation originating in the Global North can improve working conditions in the Global South (spoiler: it’s complicated). Articles looking at the micro-level examine labour regimes on factory floors, specifically by examining the influence of the post-Rana Plaza labour governance system on worker outcomes and conditions of employment (hardship remains but less sweatshops) and by documenting the work experiences of Romanian transnational live-in care workers in Austria, where workers gave accounts of having been treated unfairly due to their dependence on placement agencies and employers.

Boersma and Nolan - 2022 - Modern slavery and the employment relationship Ex

Research Article: Making sense of Downstream Labour risk in Global Value Chains

While the efforts by actors on the buyer-side of value chains – such as brands and retailers – to address upstream labour abuses are well documented, there is a lack of research into how actors on the production-side of value chains – such as raw material producers – can identify and address downstream labour risks. This research presents the findings of an action research project that focused on the Australian cotton industry. By applying a sense-making lens, we propose four properties that can be used to identify labour risk in global value chains, providing insights into the capacity of producers to address downstream labour abuses. We suggest that there is a possibility for a ‘book-end’ approach that combines upstream and downstream actions by buyers and producers in global value chains.

The article can be found on the Journal of Industrial Relations website.

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The long and winding road to respecting workers’ rights in supply chains

Companies often talk about being on a human rights ‘journey’; a long and winding course with many stops along the way. On the other hand, they are never on a ‘journey’ to profit – this tends to happen as quickly as possible. Given that Big Business has long been accused of paying lip service to its social responsibilities, the statement signed last month by virtually all the members of the US Business Roundtable, has caused quite a stir.

Their statement on the purpose of a corporation talks about dealing fairly and ethically with suppliers, supporting the communities in which they work and respecting people and the environment by embracing sustainable practices. It also highlights that the signatory companies, including Amazon, Ford and JP Morgan, ‘are committed to transparency’.

However, global supply chains are anything but transparent; today there are more than 21 million people around the world trapped in forced labour, most of whom produce goods for consumers around the globe.

Continue reading The long and winding road to respecting workers’ rights in supply chains

Can Blockchain help to break the chains of modern slavery?

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Global supply chains have struggled to deal with poor working conditions including child labour, forced labour and debt slavery. Julien Harneis/Flickr, CC BY-SA

There’s a good chance the device on which you are reading this contains cobalt. It’s an essential metal for batteries in phones and laptops. There’s also a chance the cobalt was mined by slaves. Continue reading Can Blockchain help to break the chains of modern slavery?

Global Corporations and Global Value Chains – The Disaggregation of Corporations?

The Oxford Handbook of the Corporation assesses the contemporary relevance, purpose, and performance of the corporation. The corporation is one of the most significant, if contested, innovations in human history, and the direction and effectiveness of corporate law, corporate governance, and corporate performance are being challenged as never before. Continuously evolving, the corporation as the primary instrument for wealth generation in contemporary economies demands frequent assessment and reinterpretation.

Read chapter 13: “Global Corporations and Global Value Chains – The Disaggregation of Corporations? on Google Books.