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CSR and the Limits of Capital


  • Peter Newell

    1. is Professor of Development Studies, University of East Anglia ( and James Martin Fellow, Oxford University Centre for the Environment. He has been a researcher, teacher, consultant and activist on issues of environment and development for fifteen years. He has previously worked for Friends of the Earth and Climate Network Europe and currently chairs the independent advisory panel of the One World Trust. His publications include Climate for Change: Non State Actors and the Global Politics of the Greenhouse (CUP, 2000); Development and the Challenge of Globalization (ITDG, 2002); The Business of Global Environmental Governance (MIT Press, 2005); and Rights, Resources and the Politics of Accountability (Zed Books, 2006).
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This contribution locates the contemporary debate about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and development within ongoing historical struggles to define the appropriate relationship between business and society. It questions the ‘fetishization’ of regulation as a palliative on the grounds of the assumptions it makes about the nature and capacity of states, markets and civil society alike to deliver effective reform, and the division it presumes between the interests of the state and capital in particular. It identifies CSR as a response to a legitimacy crisis within contemporary neoliberalism in general, one faced by global corporations in particular as its most public face, but one which potentially distracts our attention from the interventions which are necessary to address the twin challenges of alleviating poverty and achieving sustainability. Issues of distribution, mobility and consumption are identified as examples of areas of active neglect in the CSR field that deserve more attention if corporations are to make a greater contribution to poverty alleviation.