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Hardened Responsibility?: Contestations and Contradictions in the Regulation of Corporations
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Criminology.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4310-2974
2024 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Throughout the last decades, the social responsibility of corporations has undergone significant changes. From revolving around self-regulation, voluntariness, and soft law, the regulatory landscape has expanded to involve harder demands on corporations, such as mandatory sustainability due diligence. This thesis considers these changes as a hardening of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and explores such hardening as an outcome of contestation and struggle. In doing so, it echoes critical scholars’ call for criminology to direct attention toward the harms committed by powerful entities – in this case, large corporations in the global context – and the interests that frame the regulatory response to such harms. 

Three papers are included in this thesis, focusing on key actors that participate in the contestation and struggle under study: politicians (Paper I), corporations (Paper II), and non-governmental organizations (Paper III). The first two papers consider struggles for and against regulatory hardening, and shed light on the contradictory dynamics that permeate these struggles, while the third paper explores how organizations struggling for justice in the wake of corporate harm seek to alter the contours of the existing regulatory landscape. Taken together, the papers offer insight into how social actors articulate demands for change, or resist such change, and their underscoring interests or ambitions.

This thesis situates these findings in previous research on the regulation of corporate social and environmental responsibility, considers the papers’ methodologies, and develops the theoretical lens through which the findings can be understood. The final analytical discussion considers the hardened regulations as solutions, with the problem at hand being the paradigm of self-regulation and voluntariness that has long characterized CSR. This problematization is interpreted as an articulation of internal critique, in which social actors strive for consistency between practices and normative expectations. Thus, new regulatory practices, which conform to these expectations, have been proposed. The analysis then traces this problematization, and the contestation around it, to fundamental contradictions. Drawing attention to the inherent contradictoriness of CSR as a social formation, it argues that this should be understood as the driving force behind contestation and thus the hardening trend itself. In addition, the analysis considers the transformative potential in actors’ struggles, suggesting that some may go beyond an adjustment of regulatory practices to an existing normative framework.

All in all, the thesis contributes to criminological research on corporate responsibility by highlighting the dynamics of conflict and contradiction involved in contemporary regulation. Moreover, by understanding hardening as a solution to a problem, revolving around the shortcomings of CSR – which was itself introduced as a regulatory solution in the 1990s – the thesis situates the regulation of today in a historical development. By doing so, it draws attention to both continuity and change in this regulatory landscape. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Criminology, Stockholm University , 2024. , p. 87
Series
Avhandlingsserie / Kriminologiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet, ISSN 1404-1820 ; 49
Keywords [en]
Corporate Harm, Corporate Social Responsibility, Critical Theory, Regulation
National Category
Sociology Other Social Sciences
Research subject
Criminology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-226828ISBN: 978-91-8014-685-2 (print)ISBN: 978-91-8014-686-9 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-226828DiVA, id: diva2:1839728
Public defence
2024-04-05, Hörsal 6, Universitetsvägen 10C, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2024-03-13 Created: 2024-02-21 Last updated: 2024-03-14Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Struggles for Regulatory Hardening: Exploring Swedish Politics on Corporate Social Responsibility 
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Struggles for Regulatory Hardening: Exploring Swedish Politics on Corporate Social Responsibility 
2023 (English)In: British Journal of Criminology, ISSN 0007-0955, E-ISSN 1464-3529, Vol. 63, no 5, p. 1184-1198Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In recent years, the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has undergone a shift towards hardening, illustrated by a wave of new mandatory and state-based regulation. This article aims to understand the dynamic behind this shift, by studying struggles for regulatory hardening in the Swedish Parliament. Drawing on a critical theory of contradictions, it proposes an understanding of CSR as a contradictory social formation, which structures the parliamentary struggles. Moreover, it suggests that although the hardening trend could amount to a crisis of the traditional understanding of CSR, politicians remain embedded in a neoliberal logic of regulation. The article ends with a call for research to continue to explore alternative roads towards minimizing corporate harm in the future.

Keywords
Corporate Social Responsibility, regulation, hardening, political debates, corporate harm
National Category
Law and Society
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-211648 (URN)10.1093/bjc/azac082 (DOI)000879033700001 ()2-s2.0-85171297892 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2022-11-24 Created: 2022-11-24 Last updated: 2024-02-21Bibliographically approved
2. Navigating Contradictory Demands: An Analysis of Corporate Responses to Regulatory Hardening
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Navigating Contradictory Demands: An Analysis of Corporate Responses to Regulatory Hardening
(English)In: Article in journal (Refereed) Submitted
Keywords
Corporate Harm, Due Diligence, Immanent Contradictions, Regulatory Hardening
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-226815 (URN)
Available from: 2024-02-21 Created: 2024-02-21 Last updated: 2024-02-21
3. Justice from Below: Struggles Against Corporate Misconduct in the National Contact Point System
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Justice from Below: Struggles Against Corporate Misconduct in the National Contact Point System
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Keywords
Corporate Harm, Justice, National Contact Point (NCP), Nonjudicial Mechanisms
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-226817 (URN)
Available from: 2024-02-21 Created: 2024-02-21 Last updated: 2024-02-26Bibliographically approved

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