Enforcing Corporate Social Responsibility: Transforming voluntary corporate codes into private law obligations?

Workshop on research by the UM-HiiL-Chair on the Internationalisation of Law – Friday 17 October (Theater aan het Vrijthof, Vrijthof 47, Maastricht)
October 17 2014

Corporate codes are voluntary policies that companies frequently develop in order to show the public their commitment to respect human rights, to improve workplace standards, and to protect the environment in their global operations. The research conducted by the UM- HiiL-Visiting Chair on the Internationalisation of Law has focussed in one of its research projects on these codes. As one of the core outcomes, the argument has been developed that such voluntary corporate codes, in order to be successful in the long run, would need to be transformed into private law obligations. This result has been reached by engaging in an interdisciplinary socio-legal analysis, which suggests treating the codes as unilateral declarations that reveal a serious effort of companies to regulate public interest matters in the absence of global government. It is this specific character that private law is accordingly called upon to support by enforcing these codes.

This workshop aims to discuss and critically evaluate the outcome of this research in general and this core suggestion in particular. The first part of the conference seeks to analyse the implications that a suggested enforcement of initially voluntary corporate commitments on CSR will have on specific areas of law.

What implications do (enforced) corporate commitments have for European law and the European discussion on legal frameworks on CSR? What does it mean for the area of private law if unilateral public commitments of companies become enforceable? What consequences does it have for corporate governance rules if companies and individual managers begin to have binding obligations towards society? In the second part, the focus is shifted from the legal to the broader societal consequences that such a proposed enforcement of voluntary corporate codes could have. What consequences will the suggestion have for different forms of capitalist organisation? Will, due to national specifics, enforcement occur only in some countries or is it more likely that fundamentally different forms of enforcement will occur, which are shaped by the specific national variant of capitalism? What are the societal consequences if the task of regulating public interest matters is taken over by private actors and this role is legally enforced? And what are the consequences of enforcing corporate codes for effectively regulating the behaviour of companies? Will the enforcement of voluntary commitments steer companies into socially responsible behaviour or will it rather have detrimental effects as overregulating social norms?

The workshop will consist of presentations by amongst others the UM-HiiL-Chairholders. Sufficient room for discussion is given after each presentation and all participants of the conference are highly encouraged to actively contribute to the discussion. 

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