Building Networks for Social Change

In its pursuit of its vision for a better world, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) partners with organizations in the U.S. and abroad to responsibly fight for change. ICAR believes strongly in the idea of collective power, and, as a membership-based organization, seeks to engage other civil society actors in its mission to learn about and then seek to solve corporate human rights violations. It then targets its work toward legislators, policymakers, corporations, corporate investors, international governments, and various other stakeholders with the ability to make change, endeavoring to encourage those groups to fight for good. Further, ICAR strives to arm the average citizen with the ability to learn about and investigate corporate human rights violations through their published resources.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization works toward long-term, sustainable solutions to the factors that enable corporations to commit human rights abuses. It also works to develop and enact mechanisms of accountability and redress in cases where violations are committed. ICAR’s mission basically sums up its goals for society; it believes in “an economy that respects the rights of all people, not just powerful corporations,” and seeks to promote human rights and equality by holding corporations accountable for their actions. Further, ICAR asserts that the efforts of the corporate accountability movement to stop corporate abuses are absolutely tied to larger issues of inequality. Thus, it seeks a rights-based economy that not only holds corporations accountable for their actions, but also promotes a more equitable state of the world.

In this Monday, March 24, 2014 photo, Bangladeshi relatives of the victims of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse hold photographs of their dear ones during a protest in Savar, outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh began compiling details Monday about the victims of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse as part of a compensation deal, but dozens of people took to the streets demanding a more complete accounting of the disaster. The collapse killed more than 1,100 people and highlighted the grim conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry, a major supplier to global fashion brands. (AP Photo/Suvra Kanti Das)
ICAR plays the long game when it comes to their strategies to effect change at home and abroad. In order to alter deeply embedded societal structures, such as long-established mechanisms that enable corporate abuse of workers or corporations influencing policymakers counter to the public interest, steps must be taken incrementally. Even significant steps, like publishing reports on supply chain abuse or forming a coalition to lobby legislators to change regulatory policy, may take years of sustained effort to be impactful. The current climate only complicates matters in the fight for public good and regulations that protect human rights. At present, politicians with an anti-regulatory agenda hold the most power, backed by powerful corporate interests (although that might change with the midterm elections).

As such, in its domestic work, ICAR and its civil society peers have been put on the defensive, and need to employ strategies to protect or restore accountability/regulatory mechanisms in addition to efforts to move forward and make positive change. Just recently there have been myriad rollbacks of Obama-era regulatory policies that protect workers, land rights, and other interests that directly align with ICAR’s work. ICAR has joined and spearheaded multiple coalitions in response to the unleashing of corporate power to wreak havoc on the citizens of America (and the world). This collaborative work is targeting harmful practices like, for example, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, which are heavily impacting allies like Greenpeace, and issues like voting rights and the corrupting power of corporate money in politics.

Further, ICAR is utilizing multiple strategies to attack corporate capture. Corporate capture is the mechanism whereby corporations and extremely wealthy individuals or groups leverage their money and unduly influence domestic and international decision-makers. This almost always results in the undermining of human and environmental rights. Work against corporate capture is an integral part of ICAR’s recent efforts, as it submits letters to public officials, calls for changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and develops a new project to call out corporations that do the most harm in their efforts to influence government.

FILE – In this Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, file photo, Thai navy officers check the crew of a fishing boat in the waters off the coast of Samut Sakhon, Thailand. Thai fishing boats blocked from Indonesian waters following reports of worker abuses are now traveling thousands of miles to the western Indian Ocean to fish, but the abuses continue, Greenpeace said in a report released Thursday. (AP Photo/Dake Kang, File)

In its more internationally geared work, ICAR seeks to holistically change the culture and laws surrounding corporate behavior. It works to develop and secure legal frameworks promoting corporate respect for human rights, ensure compliance to those frameworks, provide remedy when corporations violate those laws, and create tools to assess the ethicality of a corporation’s supply chain, sourcing, or other business practices. Major corporations have an outsized impact over the lives of many worldwide, be it due to labor standards or to environmental degradation harming communities near sites of corporate operation. So, ICAR believes it is necessary to expand the conditions under which corporations can be held liable for their action to align accountability mechanisms with the scale of corporate power. ICAR works on procurement reform, labor practices, and other elements of the production process to try and improve the state of human rights.

The complex and multi-dimensional approach that ICAR takes to change is one that is absolutely vital in a rapidly changing landscape of corporate power and size. Although the impact of its work may be difficult to quantify in the short-term, ICAR is working toward the collective good in the long run in a manner that is aligned with the importance that it places on living good lives free from extreme harm. In its pursuit of a more equitable and just society, ICAR persists unfailingly to protect against the incredible harms of corruption and a non-rights based economy.

Sara Evall is a T’19 Undergraduate. She has been a participant in Duke Engage Dublin, 2017 Duke Immerse, and was a Kenan Student Research Assistant. 

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