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Corporate Social Responsibility and Political Control in Kenya and South Africa

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Businesses today often serve as governing authorities, providing public services and maintaining public order. The assumption of state-like functions serves a pragmatic purpose but as local communities become reliant on business for basic needs, businesses acquire political responsibilities. Why do firms take on these responsibilities, and how, if at all, do these practices achieve political legitimacy? This paper compares corporate service provision for employees and local communities at two company sites – the Lonmin platinum mines in North-West Province, South Africa and the Del Monte pineapple plantation in Thika, Kenya. It finds that both companies use service provision to nullify resistance to their core business practices. While at Del Monte, workers, communities and regulators are treated as distinct sources of resistance with programs and policies tailored to each, at Lonmin, company programs directly exploit political disagreements between and among workers, communities and the state about the meaning of post-apartheid transformation. While workers and local residents in both cases regard particular company governance practices as illegitimate, they nevertheless see companies, alongside or instead of the state, as governing authorities with the responsibility to provide for their welfare. This partial legitimacy allows Lonmin and Del Monte to protect their existence as companies with colonial roots in postcolonial societies.

This talk is part of the All POLIS Department Seminars and Events series.

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