The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility

By Steve May; George Cheney et al. | Go to book overview

20

Business, Society, and Impacts
on Indigenous Peoples

MARCUS BREEN

Indigenous peoples today stand at the crossroads of global-
ization. In many ways, indigenous peoples challenge the fun-
damental assumptions of globalization. They do not accept
the assumption that humanity will benefit from the construc-
tion of a world culture of consumerism. Indigenous peoples
are acutely aware, from their own tragic experience over the
past 500 years, that consumer societies grow and prosper at
the expense of other peoples and the environment.

E.-I. A. Daes, The Impact of Globalization on
Indigenous Intellectual Property and Cultures

Businesses that continue the historical goal of creating capital affect the global ecosystem. These businesses produce modes of globalization that enhance profits while having a direct impact on indigenous people who live as trustees of continents, islands, and archipelagos. They are the human embodiment of ecosystems. But they are not passive subjects of globalization. Indeed, indigenes have been demanding a dual life within and outside globalism's capital creation. They expect, even demand, a share of the profits. In so doing, their actions define how corporate social responsibility (CSR) is structured as they take their place at the table to negotiate their roles in global business activity. They also demand to be left alone, drawing on the knowledge they have acquired from the practice of corporate social irresponsibil- ity. Having been subjected to the deepening of globalization and its increasingly frictionless networks of social interaction, they are caught within an international system of unfolding corporate and institutional rule making (Hoogvelt, 2001, p. 125).

Indigenes—numbering up to 450 million people —are demanding new definitions of themselves as part of their identity-making rights (Pritchard, 2004). Yet they are caught in a rapidly shifting context, where the boundaries of corporate profit making combine with and compete against public policy to create the shifting sands of diffused interests. Like those shifting sands, the ethics associated with indigenous people are realigning themselves. Consequently, the boundaries defining how corporations treat indigenous people are in need of adjustment because corporate interests increasingly stretch over indigenous land. Indigenous people also operate in an ethical space through their engagement in debate and dialogue that often escalates to outright warfare with a mix of corporations, governments, and institutions. If we describe this set of social interactions as the political economy of indigenous people, it can be seen as an intensified domain of multiple overlapping boundaries, reflecting an interdisciplinary convergence of social relations, cultural theory, and economic practice.

The range of factors incorporated into this political economy is wide. Here are some examples. In Australia, Aborigines with a 60,000–year history have to contend with mining companies and government allies making demands on their land, while profits do little to sustain the traditions of the people. In the Amazon, ancient tropical pharma-

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