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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Governing Oil Inc. : socially responsible investment and the new governance gap Hamilton, Ashley N.


Civil society groups have had some success, in recent times, at using socially responsible investment (SRI) activism to influence the behaviour of western corporations that undertake oil and gas operations in countries where human rights and environmental concerns pose high risks for investment. However, similar initiatives have been largely unsuccessful at governing the behaviour of state-owned firms that are increasingly moving their operations overseas and operating in similarly risky situations. Very little academic research has examined the governance implications of the transnationalization of state-owned firms or assessed how activists attempt to influence the behaviour of these corporations through non-state mechanisms of governance. The intention of this paper, therefore, is to contribute to an area of research that so far, is poorly developed and understood in political science. A comparative look at two SRI campaigns aimed at the independent Canadian oil company Talisman Energy, and the state-owned firm China National Petroleum Corporation will demonstrate that SRI activism has forced a wedge between those firms held accountable to market forces, and those who enjoy a quasi-state status. Western corporations driven by their profit motive are pressured by activists to demonstrate behaviour identified here as upward competitive advantage, where they are increasingly encouraged to compete with other firms of similar nature by adopting more comprehensive and transparent CSR policies. In turn, their comparatively less-transparent counterparts enjoy a downward competitive advantage, benefiting from their ability to evade market-based governance tactics. The result is a growing governance gap in the oil industry that will likely become more concerning as large state-owned oil corporations increasingly move their operations overseas. All is not lost however, as SRI activism has had small successes in inserting corporate social responsibility considerations into the decision-making apparatus of the New York Stock Exchange and subsequently onto the agendas of CEOs and powerful investment management firms. The small successes of SRI campaigning demonstrates an increasing desire and ability of non-state actors to engage in and wield powerful market mechanisms of governance, and as a result of their efforts, activists have created a new space for debating, contesting and influencing the outcomes of global governance.

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