Corporate Social Responsibility?

In an era of escalating corporate attacks on humanity, capitalists are running scared for the incoming moment when the global working class decide to reject their rulers unjust power and replace it with socialism. In a desperate response, one way in which ruling elites attempt to put off this democratic moment is by claiming they have been born-again, this time as evangelical promoters of corporate responsibility.

One influential group that has been set up to aid the evolution of such “kind” capitalism is the International Corporate Governance Network. Formed in 1995, this Network is “a global membership organisation of around 600 leaders in corporate governance in 50 countries, with institutional investors representing assets under management of around US$18 trillion.” Ostensibly they aim “to raise standards of corporate governance worldwide,” but this seems unlikely.

With the head of BlackRock’s corporate governance and responsible investment team, Michelle Edkins, acting as the chair of the International Corporate Governance Network’s board of governors, it seems more likely that the Network aims to whitewash the brutality of corporate power.  Blackrock of course having had the dubious privilege of being the largest single sharehold of BP plc at the time of the Deepwater Horizon blowout in April 2010: a tragic “accident” that occurred precisely because profits topped all other safety and maintenance concerns.

Another interesting member of the Network’s board of governors is David Pitt-Watson, who is the chairman of Hermes Focus Asset Management; Hermes being the principal fund manager of the largest pension fund in the UK. Mr Pitt-Watson is the co-author of The New Capitalists: How Citizen Investors are Reshaping the Corporate Agenda (2006) — a book which paints an absurd democratic sheen over the unbelievable unaccountability of corporations. Fittingly, prior to joining Hermes, Mr Pitt-Watson had spent two years as the Finance Director of the Labour Party (while Tony Blair and his cronies were in power).

But perhaps I have been too quick to judge Mr Pitt-Watson, as just maybe he is committed to “fight[ing] poverty at its roots” — the roots in my mind being the profit-motive — as he is also the honorary treasurer of Oxfam GB. Indeed, sounding very much like socialists, Oxfam observe on their web site that they “share the belief that, in a world rich in resources, poverty isn’t inevitable. It’s an injustice which can, and must, be overcome.”

But on second thoughts, the profit-motive actually appears to be one of the only things that Oxfam doesn’t plan to challenge any time soon (see “Friends of the Poor or of Neo-Liberalism?” and “Charities like Oxfam are too close to New Labour”).  Therefore, Mr Pitt-Watson’s activism in the corporate and non-profit world presents itself as yet another hurdle placed in the path of a democratic working class movement for social change.

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