International Codes of Conduct and Corporate Social Responsibility: Can Transnational Corporations Regulate Themselves?
Transnational Corporations, Vol. 8, Issue 1, 1999
Posted: 16 May 2000
Following an unsuccessful attempt in the 1970s by international organizations, such as the International Labour Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations, to introduce international codes of conduct, interest in such has increased again in the course of the 1990s. These days, interest in codes of conduct is primarily the result of actions by consumer groups and other non-governmental organizations, and by managers of transnational corporations themselves. These actors have started to think about social responsibility and self-regulation in a more proactive fashion. Social and financial performance seem to be linked. More recently, governments and international organizations have also become involved again. This article examines 132 codes of conduct drawn up by four different actors: social interest groups, business support groups, international organizations and firms. The contents of the codes and their capacity to address the regulatory void left by processes of globalization is assessed. Complementary to the literature on codes of business ethics? this article's analytical framework centres on specificity and compliance mechanisms. The likelihood of compliance not only depends on the contents of the code, but is also heavily influenced by the interaction of various stakeholders in its formulation and implementation. The content analysis of a large number of codes drawn up by the four different actors, supplemented by two case studies, improves understanding about the dynamics and likely policy implications of codes of conduct. Voluntary TNC codes are showing clear potential in addressing unstable socioeconomic relations provided other actors do not step aside.
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