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The Struggle for Corporate Accountability


  • Peter Utting

    1. is Deputy Director and co-ordinator of the Markets, Business and Regulation Programme at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), Palais des Nations, Geneva. His recent edited books include Reclaiming Development Agendas: Knowledge, Power and International Policy Making (Palgrave, 2006) and Corporate Accountability and Sustainable Development, with co-editor Jennifer Clapp (OUP, 2008).
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The nature of activism concerned with the activities of transnational corporations has changed in recent years. In the 1990s, an increasing number of NGOs opted for collaboration as opposed to confrontation. By the turn of the millennium, there were signs that another approach was gaining ground, one that involved new campaigns for corporate accountability and legalistic regulation. This article examines the changing contours of contestation and civil society–business relations. It identifies two sets of conditions that are driving the contemporary ‘corporate accountability movement’: transformations occurring in the nature of capitalism that connect TNCs with global inequality and injustice; and the failures and limitations of the mainstream corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda. It then highlights core conceptual and strategic elements that distinguish the CSR and corporate accountability ‘movements' and assesses the potential of the latter to reassert social control over corporate capitalism.