Empowerment and Private Law : Civil Impetus for Sustainable Development

Abstract: This dissertation is the result of a study of private law viewed as a source of power for individuals to enhance values they favour. As an appropriate example of such values, the study has focused on current norms that have been recognized and mirrored as sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the UN Agenda 2030. The research question asks why and under which conditions it is possible for individuals to utilize civil rights and private law to empower themselves and others, with the purpose of promoting societal change in line with norms for sustainable development and resilience (SDR norms). The research has been conducted as a multiple-case study and the overall phenomenon of focus for the investigation is the function of private law and civil rights in reflexive processes that occur in the interface between individuals and norms guiding the individuals´ actions. Eight cases have been subject to in-depth studies, analyses, comparisons and syntheses. The cases deal with a variety of subjects within the research theme: buried toxicant waste barrels, cause lawyering for the conservation of marine resources, damage from oil pollution, corporate water supply pro bono, sustainability in the food industry, organic agriculture, urban gardening and sustainability in banking and finances. Three of those cases are characterized by an element of confrontation in court procedures, and five of them by the search for progress by consensus. The study confirms that contemporary conditions in society enable human individuals to promote the targeted kind of societal change by adopting techniques of legal empowerment. A sizable portion of such conditions exists within the body of operative components in private law for utilization by confrontation or consensus. Legal court procedures, legal out-of-court procedures and legal acts to regenerate or accumulate power are constantly available as operative instruments with potential functions that underpin an integration of common values in society. A prerequisite for this kind of promotion of societal change to occur, however, is that individuals do not hesitate to activate the available body of law in interaction with other norms than legal norms. Such intentional activation of law is crucial, not only in advanced legal procedures such as litigation, transaction, authorization or legal entity foundation, but also in everyday legal acts related to purchases, services, loans, contracts and collaboration. The summarized findings of the study clarify that the power and the certainty of civil rights and private law, when operationalized by assiduous individuals, can be conducive to the realization of SDR norms.

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