Wal-Martization and CSR-ization in developing countries

Sum, Ngai-Ling (2010) Wal-Martization and CSR-ization in developing countries. In: Corporate social responsibility and regulatory governance : towards inclusive development? Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp. 50-76. ISBN 9780230576445

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This chapter explores the rise of multinational retail and sourcing chains in the context of neoliberal capitalism promoted by the World Trade Organiza- tion (WTO) and other institutions as part of the post-Washington Consensus. Focusing in particular on Wal-Mart and its operations in China, it examines the changing social relations between different types of capital along supply chains, as well as between capital and workers at different points in these chains. These changes have led to political challenges from a range of national and transnational groups and have prompted some to ask whether the adoption of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is leading to the ‘marketization of the social’ and/or ‘socialization of the market’. This chapter addresses such issues in four sections. The first section deploys the neo-Gramscian approach, especially Gill’s (1995, 1998, 2002) concept of ‘new constitutionalism’, to examine how international agreements under the WTO, such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), ‘unlock’ countries for international trade and investment and also facilitate the rise of multinational chains in the developed and developing countries. The second section focuses on developing countries, especially China, examining how Wal-Mart has reshaped its corporate culture and entered into local joint-venture partnerships to consolidate its retailing and sourcing activities. The third section explores how this growing ‘Wal-Martization’ trend shifts power from suppliers-manufacturers to retailers (and financiers). In particular, it indicates how, based on its control over the supplier system, Wal-Mart has been able to impose ‘Everyday Low Prices’ and low wages on its suppliers, local competitors and workers. This is a form of trickle-down economic poverty that has prompted Wal-Mart watching groups across different scales. In response to criticisms and monitoring, state institutions, trade unions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have attempted to bring CSR to Wal-Mart in developing countries, including China. I introduce the concept of CSR-ization to describe how CSR is implemented at the factory level. The fourth section returns to Gill’s idea of ‘new constitutionalism’ but supplements it by introducing the notion of ‘new ethicalism’ to rethink the logic of certain novel features of global capitalism. The chapter ends by suggesting the need for a ‘cultural political economy’ research agenda to study these tensions in the making of a social economy.

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30 May 2012 10:15
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28 Nov 2023 10:38