A changing power equilibrium between actors: State, private sector and civil society?
Claske Dijkema and Karine Gatelier, July 2008
The question of the responsibility of business is not a new question. Ever since the industrial revolution and the rise of corporations as new form of institutions this question has been posed. What is new about the debate are the changes in the relationship between business, State and civil society in relation to increasing globalisation and new technologies. While the state's sovereignty ends with its boundaries, multinationals typically cross these boundaries. With internet as their main tool, civil society organisations equally constitute of large international networks that have proved their capacity to mobilise in the past.
This paper focuses on civil society action and its power in relation to the State and corporate actors. It discusses examples of local civil society organisations who, by linking up with international NGO's, have been able to challenge corporate power in these regions. As a result of these actions, transnational corporations have reviewed their strategy to the benefit of local populations. Its analsysis is political rather than economic and draws upon the field of conflict studies.
Cases discussed in the paper focus on the extractive industry or trade in raw materials for two reasons. Firstly, corporate responsibility in these cases is clearer to establish than on activities at the end of the production chain. Secondly, the availability of natural resources and raw materials at a competitive price often find themselves in countries of the 'global south'
where the capacity and willingness of the state in protecting its citizens against damaging
impact of business activity is lacking.
In the face of global social and environmental challenges such as poverty and environmental degradation, all of the above mentioned actors agree on the necessity for change, conflict arises...