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TADA meets CBERN: 30 PhD students from Germany and Canada

International PhD Workshop on Politics and Human Rights at York University, Toronto

On February 12th and 13th, 2010, a joint workshop on “Politics and Human Rights: Theoretical Perspectives in Business Ethics” took place at York University, Toronto. For the first time, members of the German-Canadian “Transatlantic Doctoral Academy on Corporate Responsibility” (TADA), chaired by Dr. Thomas Beschorner, met researchers from the “Canadian Business Ethics Research Network” (CBERN) headed by Dr. Wesley Cragg. CBERN was created in 2004 to promote knowledge sharing and partnerships between universities, private and public institutions across Canada.

The workshop started with a “World Café”, during which the 30 PhD-students and professors had the possibility to get to know each other and to link their personal and scientific interests, creating a topographical map. Four renowned experts in the field of Business Ethics had also been invited to present part of their research.

Dr. Andreas Scherer (University of Zurich, Switzerland) explained his theory of legitimacy. He called legitimacy a key concept in the CSR debate because it constitutes the main motivation for companies to engage in CSR. In his theory, Prof. Scherer distinguishes three legitimization strategies used by corporations in order to gain societal acceptance: strategic manipulation, isomorphic adaptation and moral reasoning. Given the fact that the instrumental nature of the first two strategies contrasts with the normativity of moral discourse, Prof. Scherer himself raised the question of how companies can apply these strategies simultaneously without being contradictious.

Dr. Bryan Husted (Schulich School of Business, York University) held a conference on “Social Equity and the Firm: Conceptualization and Measurement”. Claiming for an externality approach of CSR, he stated that firms have to internalize their externalities (e.g. social costs) to avoid societal harm. Corporations influence within-group as well as between-groups equity by distributing wealth and income inside and outside the firm. Besides, CSR can help to enhance social equity as it increases transparency and trust.

Human Rights were in the center of Dr. Florian Wettstein and Dr. Wesley Cragg’s presentations. Analyzing the public responsibilities of private actors, Prof. Wettstein (University of St. Thomas, USA) claimed for a shift from indirect to direct human rights obligations of companies. According to him, an ascription of responsibility beyond causality and individual involvement is needed. This can be reached through a capability approach, in which companies address human rights issues according to their core competences. Dr. Wesley Cragg (York University, Toronto) concluded the workshop with a talk on the compatibility of sustainability and human rights frameworks.

Outside the workshop, the participants had the occasion to go out for dinner and discover the city and nightlife of Toronto together. Both CBERN and TADA members expressed their willingness to establish a closer collaboration in the future to continue exchanging their ideas on Business Ethics.

Text by Thea Renner/ Maike Wiehmeier