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Social Movements and Corporate Social Responsibility in South Africa

Authors

  • Patrick Bond

    1. is Professor of Development Studies and Director of the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa (e-mail: pbond@mail.ngo.za). He was educated at Swarthmore College, Penn's Wharton School of Finance and Johns Hopkins University, and has been resident in South Africa since 1990.
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ABSTRACT

If Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is often reduced to ‘greenwashing’ for naïve middle-class consumers, is there a more durable force to address excessive profit taking and consequent underdevelopment? While the post-apartheid era in South Africa has been celebrated, with little foresight, for an ‘economic boom’ that restored relative corporate profitability to levels last witnessed during apartheid's heyday, the same period saw world-class social opposition to corporate power. Three areas are illustrative: the Treatment Action Campaign's street pressure and legal strategy to acquire anti-retroviral drugs for HIV-positive people; Sowetans whose street protests helped drive Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux out of Johannesburg and whose constitutional case over the right to water attacked its commercialization policies; and climate activists who oppose carbon trading. Meanwhile, activists also demanded reparations from apartheid-tainted transnational corporations in the US courts through the Alien Tort Claims Act, while a ‘Corpse Awards' was launched by activists in part to mitigate against CSR efforts. The critiques of corporations — and CSR — and the motivation for social activism are informed by strategic principles of ‘decommodification’ and ‘deglobalization of capital’; the first cannot work without the second.

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