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Digging for compliments: Rio Tinto Group, corporate social responsibility and the diffusion of international norms

Kruesman, Monika (2013) Digging for compliments: Rio Tinto Group, corporate social responsibility and the diffusion of international norms. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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It is a rare multinational corporation which neglects to express interest in Corporate Social Responsibility. Across countries, across industries and across organisations, ideas about ‘giving back’, ‘working with communities’, and ‘being responsible’ are discussed as commonly as profit margins and shareholder return. Despite, or perhaps because of, this plenitude, there remains confusion in understandings of what this phenomenon actually is and how it works. Of particular relevance for scholars of International Relations are lacunae in understanding how such an idea, value-based and emphasising organisational consistency, can be meaningful for actors operating simultaneously in many diverse locations, and under the freedom of international anarchy. Further, questions arise about what this phenomenon, reliant on ideas of good and bad, may illuminate about the movement of norms through the international system. These are the two interrelated problems that the dissertation seeks to address. Following a constructivist approach, the dissertation uses a qualitative case study method, focusing on one main corporate case (Rio Tinto Group). Insights derived from the main case study are then compared with two secondary corporate cases, to strengthen their validity and reliability. Key findings about the operational question, of how corporate social responsibility operates in multinational firms, point to the importance of broad, non-prescriptive and value-based policies at the global corporate level, with plenty of space for flexibility and variation in local implementation. In this way, corporations are able both to claim global consistency and local appropriateness. Insights about the movement of norms through the international system then follow, taking their cue from the well-known work of Finnemore and Sikkink (1998). The study finds that, while the essence of their ‘downwards’ model remains valid, applying it to the workings of international CSR points up limitations. Specifically, it appears that norms can move in various directions, not only ‘downwards’, but also ‘upwards’, as well as in cycles. Further, it appears that the direction of movement is influenced by local circumstances, and in particular the stability of the local political and economic environment.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Monika Kruesman
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Brown, Chris

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