Collaborating for Corporate Social Responsibility : the case of conflict minerals in global supply chains

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Economics

Abstract: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to adjusting corporate goals so that they are not only based on maximizing corporate profits, but include ethical standards on socially desirable behavior (Boatright, 2008). Even though many companies have integrated CSR into their business operations, there are still many issues that are difficult to tackle. Especially Multinational Corporations (MNCs) in the global business environment face many challenging situations due to the fact that they often have linkages to countries where the local government is either unwilling or unable to take care of its responsibilities. MNCs often find themselves with increased responsibilities when they start solving some of the issues that earlier have been the sole responsibility of states. A specific case situation discussed in this paper is related to ‘conflict minerals’. These minerals refer to ores of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold that can be found for example from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in central Africa. What makes these minerals ‘conflict minerals’ is their linkage to conditions of the mining operations which are associated with armed conflicts, civil war and various human rights abuses. Besides providing little welfare and development for the local people in the DRC, those minerals have helped to fund the continuing civil war and conflict in the area for years. The conflict in the DRC has already led to over five million casualties (BSR, 2010, 1). The minerals discussed in the paper are in extreme demand on the modern global market, because after they are converted into refined metals, they end up for example in electronic consumer products such as computers, cell phones and digital cameras, thus linking the severe human rights atrocities in the DRC with branded electronic companies. The topic has received wide attention and created a public discussion about the MNCs’ responsibilities towards human rights abuses that are outside the companies’ direct control but that are still connected to their operations through the global supply chains. The aim of this thesis is to describe the role of the CSR approach in addressing complex supply chain issues. The thesis explores the reasons for engagement in self-regulation with regards to responsible sourcing decisions, from an electronics company perspective. Further, the thesis sheds light upon, through the case of conflict minerals, the motivations of addressing these complex CSR problems through the multi-stakeholder collaboration and dialogue, and the challenges related to such practices. In the study a qualitative approach with descriptive multiple case study design was used. The selected case companies Intel, Motorola Solutions and Nokia are all well-known brand electronics companies that have been proactive in the conflict minerals issue and are among the forerunners in responsible sourcing activities. Empirical data in the study was acquired through document studies and personal semi-structured interviews with management representatives in the case companies. The Corporate Social Responsibility landscape by McElhaney (2008), systems thinking view on stakeholder network model by Svendsen and Laberge (2005), and the motivations and challenges related to multi-stakeholder collaboration which were identified in the literature review part, were used as theoretical starting points to analyze the empirical results. The identified motivations for multi-stakeholder collaboration are quite similar among the case companies and they are mostly linked to the complex nature of the problem and the fact that a diverse set of stakeholders is needed to address the problem. The perceived challenges among case companies vary to some extent. The findings demonstrate the importance of collective action when addressing complex CSR issues that reach beyond company boundaries and show how multi-stakeholder collaboration relates to corporate CSR strategy.

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