Assessing arms makers' corporate social responsibility

Journal of Business Ethics 74 (3):201 - 217 (2007)
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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a focal point for research aimed at extending business ethics to extra-corporate issues; and as a result many companies now seek to at least appear dedicated to one or another version of CSR. This has not affected the arms industry, however. For, this industry has not been discussed in CSR literature, perhaps because few CSR scholars have questioned this industry's privileged status as an instrument of national sovereignty. But major changes in the organization of political communities call traditional views of sovereignty into question. With these considerations in mind I assess the U.S. arms industry on the basis of CSR requirements regarding the environment, social equity, profitability, and use of political power. I find that this industry fails to meet any of these four CSR requirements. Countering a claim that these failings should not be held against arms manufacturers because their products are crucial to national defense, I contend that many of these companies function not as dutiful agents of a nation-state but as politically powerful entities in their own right. So, I conclude, they should be held responsible for the foreseeable consequences that flow from use of their products. This responsibility should include civil liability and, in cases involving war crimes and violations of human rights, responsibility under international human rights standards

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Edmund Byrne
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis


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