Spectrum affair : « corporate social responsibility » in the face of a tragic event
The « corporate social responsibility » (CSR) notion is a victim of its own success. Exponential use of the term in the economic and academic worlds to designate the procedures by which corporations assume – or should assume – responsibility for negative externalities not covered by regulation goes tendentiously hand in hand with its reification. While the phenomenon unquestionably partakes of the institutionalization of the notion, the notion in turn prevents us from understanding the content of what is now presented in the form of a black box labeled « CSR » and how that content was constructed. This article, by contrast, focuses directly on the construction of extra-legal responsibilities for corporations, reducing the field of investigation to 1) the issue of western principals’ obligations to the workers employed by their suppliers in southern countries, and 2) a situation of legal dispute rather than a deliberation arena. By adopting a generic definition of responsibility, identified here with the « regulated » administering of a sanction, and following step by step the imputations of responsibility that followed on a tragic event – the death of Bangladeshi workers when their factory collapsed – it brings to light the work of entrepreneurs for the cause of making western corporations responsible, as well as targeted companies’ attempts to resist being officially required to protect workers beyond the limited framework of the wage-paying relationship.