Renegotiating Responsibility: British Anti-Apartheid Consumer Boycott Campaigns, Late 1960s to Early 1990s

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Jakob Skovgaard

By the time Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, no human rights issue had allegedly been as debated at the UN as the racially segregated system of apartheid. Mediatized confrontation with the structural discrimination inherent to the apartheid system had a transformative impact on the self-perception of individuals, communities, and political institutions around the world. A notable manifestation of this impact was the formation of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), which aimed to contribute to the democratic transition in South Africa by – among other activities – problematizing links between companies in Britain and the apartheid government. The principal objects of study of this dissertation are the AAM and the companies – Barclays and Shell – targeted in consumer boycott campaigns conducted by the movement from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. The purpose of my analysis of the campaigns is to unpack their implications for the companies’ understanding of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The drive towards a more distinct conception of CSR in the latter half of the twentieth century forms the subtext of this dissertation; implicit in this observation is an increasing awareness of the unintended negative side-effects associated with economic globalization. The title of the dissertation, Renegotiating Responsibility: British Anti-Apartheid Consumer Boycott Campaigns, Late 1960s to Early 1990s, accentuates the effort by the AAM to transform perceptions of what constitutes the responsibility of transnational corporations. While the targeted companies already had responsibilities towards their shareholders, the state etc., the activists sought to reinterpret and renegotiate corporate responsibilities in a socially oriented direction through interaction with the companies. Integral to this study, then, is the normative supposition that abstract notions of ethics and responsibility become concretized and operationalized in specific ways through interaction between different societal actors.
This study finds that anti-apartheid consumer boycott activism incited reflection within the targeted companies on the extent of their social responsibilities, which contributed to the advancement of CSR. With this dissertation I aim to contribute, first, to the under-researched yet burgeoning field of anti-apartheid studies. More broadly, my objective is to elevate the scholarly discussion on social movement actors as catalysts for CSR with particular emphasis on insights to be gained from historical case studies.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherKøbenhavns Universitet, Det Humanistiske Fakultet
Number of pages236
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018

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