Addressing side-effect harm in the
business context: Conceptual and
Oddny Wiggen and Lene Bomann-Larsen
In 2001, 51 of the 100 largest economies in the world were private companies, not states.1 This makes the private sector a major actor on the global arena – an actor with considerable impact on the societies in which it operates. With such power comes responsibility.
Increased scrutiny of the actions of private companies has placed the responsibility of the private sector on the global agenda. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), researchers, policy makers, media, consumers, and public opinion – and not least the United Nations, with its Global Compact initiative and Millennium Development Goals – all have a critical eye on corporate actors. To accommodate these increased expectations, the private sector itself has responded with corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and programmes for promoting development, such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. New concepts such as corporate citizenship and corporate governance are on everyone's lips, and new and unexpected alliances pop up under headings such as “partnership for development”.
The focus on the private sector and its social and environmental obligations increases awareness of social and environmental issues both externally and internally, and may lay the groundwork for a reinterpretation of the role of corporations, of their purpose and legitimacy beyond the profit margin. On the other hand, the many competing concepts and approaches, as well as a lack of coherence in expectations and responses, may not only lead to fatigue but also serve as a wordy cover-up for a