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ABSTRACT

The current concern with corporate social responsibility must be seen in the context of major shifts in the functioning of the market, the state and civil society, and of the boundaries between them, and in the ways that we envision them. Capitalism has been reconfigured as an ethical order in which transnational corporations can, indeed must, be accountable for the global well-being of citizens be they rich or poor, capitalists or workers. This ethical commitment to global justice is to be promoted by the mobilization of civil society, governing with integrity both large corporations and a somewhat marginalized regulatory state. In short, regulation is being privatized. Contributors to the debate which follows vary in the extent to which they accept this vision of how capital is to be governed. There are three principal grounds for scepticism. First, in a world so marked by sharp inequalities of both income and conditions of life, how can corporate initiatives be both profitable and consistent with the interests of the poor? Second, how can global civil society, which is itself structured by relation of power and class, be counted on to regulate corporations in the interest of the poor? Third, do limited corporate reforms undercut alternative transformative projects? Those with greater sympathy for civil society involvement in governing corporate capital point out that transformative projects grow out of everyday experiences of progressive change, not out of defeatist visions of an untransformable hegemonic capital. Readers — please decide.