Making Corporate Social Responsibility an International Concern : Norm Construction in a Globalizing World

University dissertation from Stockholm : Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis

Abstract: Since the mid-1990s the issue of corporate social responsibility has become an interest of various actors in the international system and an important item on the international agenda. In spite of the absence of a common definition, the concept generally involves claims on transnational corporations to take responsibility for the promotion and protection of human and labour rights in countries where they operate or otherwise conduct business. These claims have contributed to a change in the expectations on the behaviour of companies and result from the persistent advocacy of non-governmental organizations. This study traces the development of corporate social responsibility understood as a new international norm and part of a social construction project with a normative agenda. With a point of departure in the 1970s, different stages of the norm cycle of corporate social responsibility – norm emergence, “norm cascade” and norm internalization – are traced through five selected non-governmental organizations including the Clean Clothes Campaign, the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, Global Exchange, the International Business Leaders Forum, and the International Labor Rights Fund. Although representing different categories of organizations, i.e. Activists, Business Initiatives and Multi-stakeholder Organizations, they are all seen as norm entrepreneurs involved in a process of international norm construction. The argument made is that these norm entrepreneurs through different perspectives in their ideational commitment and strategies of persuasion have been successful in making corporate social responsibility an international concern, which has led to a “cascading” of organizations and initiatives seen from the mid-1990s. At present we experience a clustering of actors around specific initiatives, a norm consolidation, which could be taken in support of a norm internalization of corporate social responsibility.

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