The Emperor's New Clothes: Shell's Corporate Social Responsibility in Nigeria's Niger Delta
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Since the public outrage over Shell’s role in the hanging of nine Nigerian activists in 1995, Shell has been a proactive proponent of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) while simultaneously vehemently resisting legal accountability for corporate human rights violations. This thesis argues that Shell’s seemingly contradictory positions on CSR and human rights can best be understood by conceptualizing Shell’s CSR as strategic action that serves to protect the status quo in the Niger delta against the external threat of enforceable legal obligations. Using Strategic Action Field Theory as a tool for analysis, this thesis approaches the phenomenon of CSR through a critical, post-colonial lens. It finds that because the field of oil extraction in the Niger delta emerged in Nigeria’s colonial period, the power disparities that characterized the relations between European multinationals and African communities continue to shape the rules, practices and understandings that govern oil extraction in present day Nigeria. As a result, the key elements of the status quo of oil in the Niger delta have remained surprisingly stable amidst the continuous crisis and political turbulence that characterizes the Niger delta. Binding, enforceable human rights obligations could however fundamentally change the status quo of oil extraction in the Niger delta. So far, Shell has been able to forestall this development by presenting corporate social responsibility as an alternative to corporate legal accountability in global policy making spaces. However, analysis of two examples of Shell’s CSR in the Niger delta shows that Shell’s CSR by design only achieves marginal changes: all core aspects of the status quo in the Niger delta are left intact. This finding confirms a central hypothesis of Strategic Action Field Theory: a lack of change, like change, is achieved through action.