restricted access 3. Global Corporations
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3 Global Corporations Kyla Tienhaara, Amandine Orsini, and Robert Falkner Global corporations have been key players in the development of global environmental governance. The significance of these actors has not always been acknowledged in the academic literature but recent scholarship has produced a wealth of studies on the theoretical and empirical dimensions of business involvement in international environmental politics (for overviews of this literature, see Levy and Newell 2005b; Falkner 2008). This shift in the literature is partly a reflection of the rapid proliferation and growth of global corporations. At the dawn of the global environmental movement in the early 1970s, there were a mere seven thousand parent enterprises (Clapp 2005). By 2005 there were estimated to be more than ten times that number (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development [UNCTAD] 2006, annex table A.I.6), and recent waves of mergers and acquisitions have led to the creation of ever larger transnational corporate conglomerates. Moreover, and more important, scholars have recognized that global corporations have also become more actively engaged in global environmental governance since the 1970s. They not only seek to shape international diplomatic efforts to create global environmental treaties but have also become sources of authority and providers of environmental governance functions in their own right. As in other areas of global governance, business has become a “pivotal political actor” (Fuchs 2007, 4) in the environmental arena. This chapter aims to summarize the main findings of recent work on global corporations carried out by researchers in the Global Governance Project. The next section conceptualizes and introduces the topic. Following this, three specific examples of how global corporations have engaged in the negotiation and implementation of international environmental regimes are presented. The fourth section draws on these experiences in a discussion about the different dimensions, as well as the 46 Kyla Tienhaara, Amandine Orsini, and Robert Falkner limitations, of corporate power. The chapter concludes with recommendations for future research. Conceptualization In the realm of global environmental governance, corporations can be thought of as having multiple identities. On the one hand, they can be seen as creators of environmental problems. Corporations are responsible for a significant percentage of global energy usage, for the depletion of much of the planet’s stocks of natural resources, and for a large portion of annual releases of toxic chemicals and emissions into the environment (Elliott 1998). Furthermore, global corporations are relentless promoters of (over)consumption, which is increasingly recognized as a root cause of many (if not all) environmental problems (Dauvergne 2008). On the other hand, the actions of corporations are often critical to the success of environmental protection efforts. Global corporations have substantial capacity to conduct research and are key drivers of the social and technological change that is required to address environmental problems (Levy and Newell 2005a). In the not-so-distant past, the majority of global corporations could have been expected to react to environmental measures in much the same way. Responses typically fell within a limited range from the skeptical and dismissive through to the outright hostile. The accepted ideology among corporate actors pitted environmental protection against economic success. Today, corporations are generally much more nuanced and diverse in their approach to environmental issues (Falkner 2008). This is not to say that one no longer finds individual corporations using old adversarial tactics. Exxon’s continued funding of initiatives devoted to undermining the scientific evidence on climate change is a prime example (Adam 2009). In addition, corporations do still play the jobsversus -environment card, which can be particularly effective in an economic crisis. For the most part, however, the modern global corporation is likely to agree that some action on environmental issues at the global level is necessary. Additionally, it may even acknowledge that “win-win” solutions to environmental problems are possible and that acting as a leader on environmental issues can be beneficial from an economic perspective , the so-called business case for environmentally responsible behavior. According to Braithwaite and Drahos (2000, 268), “the change in business leaders’ attitudes on this issue is unmistakable. Many more now believe that green is lean and profitable.” Nevertheless, as Global Corporations 47 Gunningham (2009, 221) points out, it remains unclear how much of this change in attitudes reflects empty rhetoric and to what extent corporations are actually “walking the talk.” How can one explain the shift in posture adopted by global corporations ? To a large extent, it is purely strategic. It soon became obvious to corporate actors that taking a hostile...


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Subject Headings

  • Environmental policy -- International cooperation.
  • Environmental responsiblity -- International cooperaiton.
  • Global environmental changes.
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