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Constructing Private Social Responsibility Standards: A Social Movement's Struggle to Regulate Global Capitalism
Collins, Patricia H
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In the last several decades, increasing corporate abuses against labor, human rights, and the environment have sparked an explosion in the discourse around what corporations' responsibilities are to society. One form of this discourse has been the production of specific sets of standards by the social responsibility movement to hold businesses accountable to society. While many in the movement continue to target the state to advocate for laws and regulations, the movement has also increasingly targeted corporations directly in an effort to create private standards to which they expect businesses to adhere. Relying on contentious outsider pressure against corporations, advocates work through institutional channels and with corporations to promote social change in a way that traditional social movement theories have largely ignored. This study examines socially responsible investing and social certifications as two particularly important sites for the development of private standards that function outside of the state. Each of these sites are conceptualized as social movement fields in which actors compete to define standards, and which have their own unique rules, opportunities, and constraints. Specifically, I ask: how are private social responsibility standards constructed? Within each field, I draw upon qualitative, in-depth interviews to examine multiple cases, or sets of standards, to understand how advocates translate their expectations into specific standards and what field-level mechanisms shape the standard-setting process. I compare standards across time, and within and across fields to identify causal mechanisms that shape standards in similarly patterned ways. My findings show how power, culture, and institutions shape standards by including or excluding certain criteria and raising or lowering thresholds of socially responsible practices. By examining standard-setting within these fields, we can better understand how meanings are assigned to the different claims of social responsibility, the opportunities and constraints of these fields for the global governance of capitalism, and the relationship between outsider and insider strategies within social movement theory.