Signposts or Weathervanes? The Curious Case of Corporate Social Responsibility and Conflict Minerals

Journal of Business Ethics 146 (3):469-484 (2017)
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Abstract

Corporate social responsibility is often framed in terms of opposing constructions of the firm. These reflect, respectively, different accounts of its obligations: either to shareholders or to stakeholders. Although these opposing constructions of corporate responsibility are diametrically opposed, they are also much more fluid and mobile in certain contexts, since they can act as discursive resources that are deployed and brought into play in the struggle over shaping what responsibility means. They are less the fixed, ideological “signposts” they might appear, and more like “weathervanes” that move alongside changing rhetorical currents. To show this, we analyse the Securities and Exchange Commission consultation process, and legislation, relating to the provenance of “conflict minerals”. We identify two dialectically opposed camps, each seeking to influence final legislation and with end goals in keeping with the shareholder/stakeholder dichotomy. One camp lobbied for firms to scrutinize their entire supply chain, constructing the firm as a “global citizen” with very wide social responsibilities. The second camp lobbied for a lighter touch approach, constructing the firm as a “trader”, with much narrower social responsibilities. We analyse the complex interplay between these two opposed camps, our contribution being to show how both deploy competing conceptions of the corporation as discursive resources.

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