Theme 2: corporations and corporate social responsibility

We introduced a pair of seminars on companies and CSR as a way of demonstrating how Marxist perspectives can be deployed in socio-legal research. This theme also enabled us to look at comparing different research methodologies in action. The first seminar was entitled 'Law, Organisations and the CSR

Debate'; the second 'From Rules on the Book to Rules in Action - litigation vs regulatory standards'. This seminar pair explored the issues around corporate accountability, departing, however, in two ways from the usual focus taken in company law on the legal duties shaping internal corporate governance: first, by exploring a wider view of the role of corporations in society, one often expressed nowadays as CSR; second, by focusing on non-legal ways in which corporations as organizations respond to legal pressures in the direction of broader social responsibility. Thus, we have been able to develop the focus in the first seminars by exploring further the ways in which legal issues are often worked out in daily life as non-legal issues or, even when legal, in locations far from courts and lawyers. But this time, rather than applying these ideas to individuals, we applied the ideas to organizations. Students particularly focus on the McLibel[1] trial in these two seminars; case readings are mixed with a documentary film[2] and media reports, as well as academic work, such as Vick and Campbell's important paper in the Journal of Law and Society (2001). Questions for discussion included:

  • • What is the 'event study' method used by Vick and Campbell? What are the pros and cons of its use in evaluating the economic impact of the McLibel case? And in evaluating the wider social impact of the case?
  • • What other kinds of information did Vick and Campbell gather to evaluate the impact of the case? What other kinds of 'legal events' might be investigated by the event study method?
  • • Compare O'Rourke's (2003) academic article with his policy story in a non-academic magazine (O'Rourke, 2001): what are the pros and cons of turning academic research into 'action recommendations' of the kind in this article? What other kinds of legal issues could be investigated through 'action research'?

  • [1] See McDonald's Corporation v Steel & Morris [1997] EWHC QB 366; Steel and Mossir v UK[2005] ECHR 103.
  • [2] McLibel (1997) directed by Franny Armstrong and Ken Loach.
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