Corporate social responsibility and private employment regulation: A challenge to precarity and inequality in neo-colonial supply chains?

Jill Timms, David Bek

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Engagement in global discourses of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become standard practice not only for transnational corporations, but increasingly for smaller businesses too. As we face the incompatibility of perpetual production growth and ecological crisis, claims of responsible, ethical, sustainable, good and philanthropic business behaviour pervade ever more areas of our everyday life. We can support the provision of clean water in far off countries through our choice of bottled water, sponsor child immunisation through the nappies we buy, support sustainable fishing via the carrier bags we use, or reduce landfill by using a reusable cup for our coffee. How does this expanded understanding of social responsibility in a global context address issues of inequality and exploitation at work? Can it? Should it? This paper explores the professionalisation and growth of CSR, particularly in relation to workers’ rights and the proliferation of private regulation, and asks whether these can seriously challenge corporate social irresponsibility within global production networks. Empirical research on certification and employment standards in textile, flower and wine supply chains, is used to argue that instead of overcoming precarity and exploitation of the disconnected workers within these complex chains, corporate-dominated CSR agendas, together with the spread of soft regulatory systems, can reinforce rather than overcome neo-colonial power relations. Investigating the tangled lines of responsibility in such global production networks is important, as the continued growth of the CSR and standards industry suggests substantial incentives for those able to influence the agenda, and losses for those who cannot.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2019
EventBritish Sociology Association Annual Conference - Glasgow Caledonian University
Duration: 24 Apr 201926 Apr 2019


ConferenceBritish Sociology Association Annual Conference


  • corporate social responsbility
  • Colonialism
  • Supply chain
  • Employment Relations
  • certification


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