Thomas Hajduk, European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder)
Thomas studied Political Science and History in Münster, Potsdam and Berlin, and graduated in Modern History at the University of Durham, UK. In between he has been writing more than he probably should have and did the odd internship at various media outlets, a ministry and a corporation. At the moment he is writing his PhD thesis, which is funded by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes.
And the responsibility of business is...? A history of international norms for business
The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. Or is it? The term corporate responsibility (CR) has remained a contested concept to the present day. In a globalised world the questions that come with it have become even more pressing: what responsibilities does business have – in development, in fairer international economic relations, in resource management or in climate change?
Despite its controversial meaning, CR seems to be ubiquitous these days. Corporate websites, government white papers and activists often use the term for different agendas. To grasp what the concept means and how it has changed our view on the role of corporations, it is helpful to look on its least common denominators: the international norms, standards and codes which have been developed by various public and public-private organisations since the early 1970s.
This political endeavour constitutes a ground upon which the minimally acceptable behaviour of business can be defined and judged. Its outcome – the norms, standards and codes – thus resemble the human rights, which since their declaration have been forming the basic understanding of what each human being is entitled to. In other words: ideas about corporate responsibility do matter.
In my PhD thesis I want to show how some of the most important CR norms were created, used and revised over the past four decades. It is an intellectual history of concepts of corporate responsibility at the United Nations, the OECD, the ILO and the European Union. Based on archival studies and interviews I will not only ask how they were made, but also which beliefs, traditions and constraints had informed them in the first place.
Among the many norms, standards and codes, this intellectual history will draw on the following examples:
- OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (1976)
- ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises
and Social Policy (1977)
- United Nations Code of Conduct (1974-1991)
- UN Global Compact (1999, 2004)
- UN Norms on the responsibilities of transnational corporations and other
business enterprises with regard to human rights (2003; 2008)
- EU CSR Agenda (1970s, 2000s)
As for the theoretical background, my work is rooted in the blend of historical institutionalism that puts ideas in the spotlight. Scholars such as Max Weber and Mario Rainer Lepsius and recently the likes of Peter Hall, Mark Blythe and W. Richard Scott have all argued for the importance of ideas in economic and political history.
Yet it is particularly the work of Mark Bevir that inspired my approach. The political scientist and historian advocates the explanatory power of an interpretative approach in social science. Practices make only sense when we hold beliefs about them, and these beliefs in turn require and are informed by particular practises. Added two other concepts –the influence of the web of existing beliefs (ie traditions) and the disruptive effect of dilemmas – Bevir’s theoretical work lays the foundation for my intellectual history of international norms for business.
Prof.Dr. Jürgen Neyer
Publications and conferences
Hajduk, Thomas: 'Dein Wille geschehe: Deutsche Unternehmen in der Verantwortung', zfwu 8/1 (2007): 107-11.
thomas.hajduk [at] doctoral-academy [dot] net