Corporate Social Responsibility, Globalization, the Multinational Corporation, and Labor: An Unlikely Alliance

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Corporate social responsibility is often viewed as an industry or corporation-based concept with some base in law, but it is largely concerned with preserving the public face of the corporation. (1) However, in recent years, the focus of corporate social responsibility has shifted to new areas ranging from environmental protection to sustainable development and labor concerns. (2) At the same time, the world has witnessed the rise of globalization and the multinational corporation, (3) an entity that has been represented as everything from a source of economic growth in underdeveloped areas (4) to the perpetual nemesis in print and movie stories. (5)

Those concerned by the typical mantra of globalization and the rise of the multinational corporation worry that taken together they represent the potential downfall of labor rights, especially given the constant threat of labor outsourcing to countries that are more amenable to business interests and, by insinuation, less amenable to fair labor practices. (6) In this view, corporate social responsibility is something that the multinational corporation must embrace in order to avoid public wrath and questions as to its business practices but is not something that provides a meaningful vehicle for development in any affected policy area. This is not, however, the only way to view the relationship corporate social responsibility and globalization as embodied by the multinational corporation.

With that in mind, this article discusses the intersection between globalization, the more legally robust corporate social responsibility regimes that are being developed in relation to multinational corporate actions and actors, and the future of labor regulation. (7) While it is easy to gloss over this intersection through pessimism based on prior corporate bad acts, there is a need to look beyond this understanding of the intersection. Accordingly, this article argues that through robust corporate social responsibility practices and international organization regulations, globalization and the rise of the multinational corporation can serve as a source of improved labor rights within both developed and developing countries. (8)

Part II of this article examines the link between globalization, the multinational corporation and labor issues, both in terms of exacerbating the problem of exploitative labor practices and in terms of bringing domestic and international attention to these practices. Part III examines corporate social responsibility both as a soft law construct and within the realm of international legal agreements and regimes. This Part demonstrates that corporate social responsibility is a flexible concept in law and that this flexibility can indeed create a positive link with the quickly evolving pace of globalization and the practices of multinational corporations.

Part IV brings the lessons of the previous Parts together to discuss the meaning of the relationship between corporate social responsibility, globalization, multinational corporations, and labor rights. Cynically, of course, the meaning of this relationship could be seen as quite thin, since corporations increasingly need to present a "clean" image to their consumers and labor rights represent an easy way to do this. (9) This Part argues that moving beyond this inherent cynicism reveals far more important lessons. Essentially, multinational corporations need to make a profit and also need to be responsible actors in the communities in which they operate, including the communities in which their subsidiaries and affiliates operate. This often requires that the corporation use labor standards that are more generous or protective than those required by the domestic laws of the host state in which they operate. Although this requirement does not change the content of the domestic laws, it does provide for labor interests, ranging from unions and individual workers, with additional benefits and also with a more robust ability to petition for changes to the domestic laws based on the feasibility of implementing these higher standards. …