CSR and social conflict in the Brazilian extractive sector

Journal article

Hoelscher, Kristian & Siri Aas Rustad (2019) CSR and social conflict in the Brazilian extractive sector, Conflict, Security and Development 19 (1): 99–119.

Read the article here (Open Access)

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an important means to address conflicts, support local development and build trust between businesses and civil society. Yet CSR often fails to live up to its ambitions and can even exacerbate conflicts between companies and communities. In this article we consider how changing CSR strategies over the past four decades between Brazilian company Vale to Norwegian company Hydro have fomented or mitigated company–community conflicts in Northern Brazil. We find that paternalistic and philanthropic approaches of Vale over time led to deep resentment and mistrust due to underdevelopment and environmental damages. Moreover, while Hydro’s more modern CSR strategies sought to deepen community engagement and build legitimacy, the company has struggled in addressing the legacies inherited from Vale and past and current civil society grievances. The case suggests that even forward-thinking CSR approaches are vulnerable to failure where they prioritise business risk over community engagement, neglect to account for past legacies in areas of operation, and fail to create a shared vision of future development. It suggests that EI companies should both understand and engage with their social and environmental impacts in the past, present, and future and create shared economic benefits in the short and long term in order to address social conflicts.

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