Volume 4, 2009
A Survey of International Corporate Responsibility
Transnationals and Corporate Responsibility
A Polythetic View of Moral Obligation
This paper proposes a model of transnational corporations that calls for a non-unitary normative approach to ground the kind of corporate social responsibility that must, maximally, be ascribed to them. This involves injecting the notion of moral obligation into the picture, a particularly strict notion with an equally rigorous set of requirements that is not normally expected to be applicable to the case of big business operating internationally. However, if we are to be honest about the prospects of establishing a viable regime of international justice in conditions of globalized economies, the litanies of half-measures, wishful thinking, and lame excuses for not
tackling the responsibilities of multinationally operating economic units will obviously lead us nowhere. Neither will any lists of principles of a voluntary global compact type, nor the intuitions of business ethics writers, be of any help either. We must go back to the historical kernel of ethical systems, identify key concepts, and ascertain for which particular issues raised by the operation of transnationals each such concept best delivers the corresponding moral obligation, thus silencing the traditional realist worry that the international arena is, logically, a Hobbesian state of nature. My proposal rests on the idea that transnationals are polythetic organisms,
both internally and externally, that require a corresponding multi-positioned ethical approach to cover their overlapping operating units.