Promising Justice: Contract (as) Social Responsibility

52 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2020

See all articles by Jonathan C. Lipson

Jonathan C. Lipson

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

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Date Written: December 23, 2019


Contracts in a variety of contexts — from multinational supply chain agreements to movie-production deals — increasingly include promises on such “social responsibility” matters as human trafficking, environmental sustainability, and socio-demographic diversity. These terms literally promise justice.

Can they deliver?

This paper makes three claims about the use of contract to achieve social responsibility (which I abbreviate “KSR”). First, KSR can be seen as a response to “vertical deconstruction,” the erosion of intra-firm and social orders that historically generated and transmitted non-commercial social norms. Second, as such, KSR terms will be legally un(der)-enforceable: Like better-studied relational contracts, KSR will blend enforceable and unenforceable terms to achieve governance, risk-sharing, and educative goals. Third, although KSR may be more effective than more popular mechanisms, in particular **corporate** social responsibility, KSR is not a panacea, and presents risks of cooptation and fragmentation often associated with soft-law regimes.

Keywords: contract, social responsibility, corporate social responsibility, csr, human rights, multinational corporations, social norms, legal transplants, labor trafficking, sustainability, supply chains,

JEL Classification: K12

Suggested Citation

Lipson, Jonathan C., Promising Justice: Contract (as) Social Responsibility (December 23, 2019). Wisconsin Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Jonathan C. Lipson (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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