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Where responsibility lies: corporate social responsibility and campaigns for the rights of workers in a global economy

Timms, Jill (2012) Where responsibility lies: corporate social responsibility and campaigns for the rights of workers in a global economy. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Sociological analysis of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is, as yet, limited. This thesis analyses how approaches to CSR are defined and mobilised in relation to the rights of workers in transnational contexts of production and exchange. Participation in emerging global discourses of CSR is becoming standard practice amongst transnational corporations, and the growth and professionalisation of CSR, even during global economic crisis, suggests there may be substantial incentives for those seeking to influence agendas. To misunderstand the significance of CSR is dangerous. It is necessary to go beyond questions of whether CSR is merely marketing, to understand how the terms of debate are being set regarding responsibility in the global economy. Drawing on critiques of globalising corporate practices and labour movements research, I examine how these debates are being mobilised not only by politicians and employers, but also by workers and their advocates. Employment relations is an important arena for practical and ideological struggles over CSR, as production networks and labour markets have been dramatically restructured by globalising processes. To investigate the role of contestation in CSR development, labour rights campaigns were investigated as moments when responsibilities to workers are in dispute. A preliminary textual analysis categorised competing CSR agendas in terms of corporate, professional, political and activist approaches. Research into three case studies then explored how these can be mobilised in practice: the factory-focused Keep Burberry British campaign to prevent work being outsourced overseas; the eventfocused PlayFair 2012 campaign for workers making Olympic merchandise; and product-focused campaigns for cut flower workers. The thesis contributes empirically and analytically to understanding the potential implications of emerging approaches to CSR for employment regulation, the relationship of states to corporations, and the response of labour movements. It is argued that activist framing of the employment relationship in terms of CSR is being used to pursue improved conditions of work and to influence debate over where responsibility lies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Jill Timms
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Tonkiss, Fran and Sklair, Leslie

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