Civil Resistance and Corporate Behavior (2016)

Mapping Trends and Assessing Impact

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Principal Investigators:

  • Erica Chenoweth, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver
  • Tricia Olsen, Business Ethics and Legal Studies, University of Denver

Corporations can be implicated in human rights violations involving their employees and the communities in which they operate. Although corporations function within a framework of national and international human rights norms, such as the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights—and several industries have self-regulated, promoting sector-specific standards—corporations may be most responsive not to top-down standards or enforcement, but to citizen-led resistance. What sorts of civil resistance are most effective in gaining concessions and from which corporations? What corporate characteristics—such as sector, market share, reputational value, or leadership changes—and contextual factors, like rule of law, influence the likelihood that corporations will make concessions? In this paper, a University of Denver (DU) research team constructed a new dataset to answer these questions, gathering observational data in Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa. The project was a pilot, assembling the first such dataset to study how citizens organize against corporate human rights abuses and how corporations operating outside the United States respond to this civil resistance. Key findings include:

  • Multiple events of civil resistance coordinated over time are more effective than a single, one-off event; the more events, the more likely it was that the corporation made concessions.
  • Corporations undergoing leadership change were more likely to make concessions—suggesting that whether or not the civil resistance contributed to leadership change, such change presents an opening for progress on human rights.
  • Corporations in countries reliant on labor-intensive extraction (coal or minerals) are more likely to make concessions than those in countries reliant on capital-intensive extraction (oil).
  • Corporations in countries with more robust rule of law are more likely to make concessions than those operating in countries with less legal accountability, suggesting both that working to improve rule of law may ultimately make corporate concessions more systemically likely and that civil society should evaluate the political and economic contexts in which they, and their target corporations, operate to better assess the probability that civil resistance will yield change.