Corporate Power in Global Governance: A Neo-Gramscian Perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility

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Corporate Power in Global Governance
A neo-Gramscian perspective on Corporate Social Responsibility

Delphine Rabet
PhD candidate, School of Social and Political Sciences, Faculty of Arts, University of Sydney


Abstract: This paper looks at global corporate actors and their quest for power. It will briefly present Multinational Corporations as global political actors and emphasize the importance of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the making of specific rules of global governance, which protect corporate interests. Building on a Gramscian definition of hegemony, the paper will then argue that the CSR phenomenon constitutes an attempt to complete a corporate historical bloc, in which corporate actors consolidate their power through gaining ‘consent’ from various other global actors and society at large. Such an approach should highlight power mechanisms otherwise often unexplored.

Key words: Corporate Social Responsibility, MNCs, FDI, global governance, historical bloc


Corporate Power in Global Governance
A Neo-Gramscian perspective on corporate social responsibility Introduction If nation-states have traditionally been the object of study for political scientists, large economic entities, operating across countries, should as well be understood politically. This paper will focus on these global corporate actors and their quest for power. In the first half, it will briefly look at MNCs as political actors in global governance and argue that the profit-motive comes second to the will to survive and expand for these large economic entities. The importance of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the making of specific rules of global governance will then illustrate further such a claim. In a second part, building on Antonio Gramsci’s thesis about the elements required for the constitution of an historical bloc, the paper will highlight the importance of the rhetoric of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), defined broadly as a hegemonic system necessary for corporations to maximize their chance of survival. While the term “Global Governance” has become an overused motto in studies of political, economic or social issues arising at the world level, definition is far from being agreed upon. Global governance has tended to be primarily conceptualized through a normative lens and has often been used to signify a range of potential organizing principles concerning global production. However, it is also possible to look at global governance as the existing structure and forces producing a particular world order through processes of credit, production, and distribution. Production refers here to the production of material goods, but also to the production of monetary wealth and to the production of ideas, encompassing the potential political, social, cultural and environmental dimensions of global governance. It is through this definition that the existence, purpose and functioning of large productive entities, multinational corporations (MNCs), will be conceptualized here. Such an approach should highlight power mechanisms otherwise often unexplored.

Political dimension of MNCs in global governance
It is only recently that the conceptualization of corporations as political actors has become a potential field of research in the discipline of political sciences. If scholarly work on the political dimension of the corporation has been available in the past (Berle and Means 1967, Mason 1961, Veblen 1904), the business corporation seemed to have then withdrawn again into the amorphous, supposedly apolitical realm of the market, itself narrowly conceived as a sphere of private agreement, rational profit seeking and economic efficiency (Zumansen 2009). Still, this retreat should not preclude a contemporaneous critical reading of the global firm through a political lens. As Earl Latham claimed some fifty years ago: “The great corporations are political systems in which their...
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