Weatherhead Resident Scholar
Global Capitalism and the ‘Caring Corporation’: Copper Mining and Corporate Social Responsibility in Indonesia
The “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) movement has become an industry in its own right over the last decade through new executive-training programs, professional organizations, journals, and consultants, all devoted, ostensibly, to creating better “corporate citizens.” Although multinational companies implementing CSR policies sounds like a positive development, Marina Welker’s research reveals a complex and often surprising reality.
Welker’s dissertation, “Global Capitalism and the ‘Caring Corporation’: Copper Mining and Corporate Social Responsibility in Indonesia,” examines how CSR is used by Newmont Mining Corporation in its Batu Hijau mine on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. Although CSR policies encourage the company to be more responsive to the needs of rural villagers on the predominantly Muslim island, Welker finds that CSR is also used as “a strategy for protecting a $2 billion fixed capital investment from social risks.”
Caught between “stakeholders” including advocacy organizations (also transnational in scope), governments, lending institutions, and their own shareholders, multinational corporations such as Newmont have appropriated CSR as an extension of corporate knowledge and power, Welker argues. At the same time, the various stakeholders seeking to influence the company have divergent ideas about what constitutes “socially responsible” corporate behavior. Welker asks how CSR experts produce knowledge of and exercise power over a complex social environment and what kinds of intended and unintended consequences result.
Welker points out that “morally compelling concepts such as transparency, accountability, governance, empowerment, participation, and sustainability are increasingly being used as a CSR resource to intervene in the behavior of local stakeholders and to ensure corporate survival.” For instance, Welker says that “in the name of ‘transparency,’ Newmont turns the tables by making strategic revelations about the activist NGOs in an attempt to sever their links with Subawan villagers.”
For 18 months, Welker conducted research in Indonesia, for the most part “living in the villages near the mine, participating in daily life and Newmont-sponsored activities.” She interviewed village leaders, Newmont staff, government officials, and representatives of non-governmental organizations. To complete the circle, Welker concluded her fieldwork at Newmont’s corporate headquarters in Denver, Colorado, where she “shadowed CSR experts in their everyday work.”
Affiliation at time of award:
Ph.D. Candidate, Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor