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Technology, Business and Society Programme Paper 14: The Political Economy of Corporate Responsibility in Brazil: Social and Environmental Dimensions

26 Jan 2005

  • Authors: Paola Cappellin, Gian Mario Giuliani

Discourse and practices associated with corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSER) have escalated and evolved rapidly in recent years. Global interest in CSER expanded in the 1990s and spread to many developing countries via processes, policies and institutions often associated with globalization. But many developing countries also have their own CSER history. Interest in improving the social performance of firms in Brazil increased significantly in the 1980s, and was driven to a large extent by domestic concerns, actors and contexts. A crucial element was the diffusion of certain values and ethical principles related to democratization and progressive religious thinking. Democratization also paved the way for the expansion of civil society organizations and social movements concerned with the social and environmental impacts of business.

While firms are increasingly adopting CSER initiatives, the dynamics of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate environmental responsibility (CER) vary considerably. CSR has taken place in a context of deregulation and decline in labour standards and rights. While CSR discourse and practice have expanded, firms and business associations have simultaneously pressured the state to remove workers’ rights and standards from law and to make them the object of the bargaining process in the workplace. Along with the deregulation of universal labour laws, big business is cutting back on contractual employment and remuneration.

CER, on the other hand, is supported and reinforced by regulatory systems defined by national laws and international agreements, as well as civil society pressure and certain business opportunities. Concern for environmental issues is relatively recent in the social conscience and has increased significantly in different sectors of society, including business. But as yet, there are few signs of dialogue between the economy and society on environmental issues.

Ultimately, the prospects for CSER depend on an institutional context that combines regulatory, political and business dimensions. Under the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the CSER agenda is meshing with a broader agenda that aims to reinstate universal public policies at the centre of the Brazilian model of socioeconomic development. This government also signals a new culture of social consent and a new relationship between voluntary and governmental regulation.

Paola Cappellin and Gian Mario Giuliani are both professors at the Graduate Programme of Sociology and Anthropology of the Institute of Philosophy and Social Sciences, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Order TBSPP 14 from UNRISD (US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).