Rights in a State of Exception. The Deadly Colonial Ethics of Voluntary Corporate Responsibility for Human Rights

27 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2018 Last revised: 18 Dec 2018

Date Written: July 20, 2018

Abstract

English abstract: It is widely accepted that voluntary corporate responsibility for human rights is a means of continuing “business-as-usual”. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been denounced as “whitewash”, with little effect in practice. I claim here that voluntary CSR is far worse than “whitewash”: it actively bolsters corporate impunity by rendering the violence of development illegible and equating resistance with irrationality or subversion. It thrives upon the state of exception that provides the permissive context of human rights violations. I make this argument by returning to the birthplace of corporate responsibility for human rights: BP’s Colombian oilfields, combining ethnographic research with trenchant critique of the colonial myths informing mainstream discussion of business and human rights. The UN has responded to the potential of voluntary CSR to detract from abuses by emphasising the importance of judicial remedy. What the analysis here reveals is how voluntary measures and provision for judicial remedy may work in opposite directions.

Spanish abstract: La responsabilidad social corporativa (RSC) ha sido acusada de ser una mera fachada. Aduzco aquí que es peor aún: refuerza activamente la impunidad empresarial, ya que rinde ininteligible la violencia del desarrollo y tilda toda resistencia de irracional o subversiva. Se alimenta de un estado de excepción que proporciona un contexto propicio a las violaciones de derechos humanos (DDHH). Regreso al origen de la responsabilidad corporativa respecto a los DDHH –los campos petrolíferos colombianos de BP–, para combinar la investigación etnográfica con una crítica a la mitología colonial que da forma al debate sobre empresas y DDHH. La ONU ha reconocido que la RSC voluntaria puede ocultar los abusos, subrayando la importancia del recurso judicial cuando las medidas voluntarias no alcanzan. No obstante, este artículo subraya que las medidas voluntarias y jurídicas pueden servir distintos fines.

Keywords: Corporate responsibility, human rights, impunity, Responsabilidad empresarial, derechos humanos, impunidad

Suggested Citation

Coleman, Lara Montesinos, Rights in a State of Exception. The Deadly Colonial Ethics of Voluntary Corporate Responsibility for Human Rights (July 20, 2018). Oñati Socio-Legal Series, vol. 8, n. 6 (2018), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3217001

Lara Montesinos Coleman (Contact Author)

University of Sussex ( email )

Sussex House
Falmer
Brighton, Sussex BNI 9RH
United Kingdom

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