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California Global Corporate Accountability Project

About the Project

The explosion of foreign direct investment by multinational corporations (MNCs) in the 1990s has elevated the overseas social and environmental performance of U.S. corporations to the center of the public spotlight. In many developing countries where U.S. firms manufacture goods, extract resources, or develop land, governments simply lack the regulatory capacity to assure corporate adherence to international standards of performance, leaving corporations without clear management practice guidelines, and in many cases virtual carte blanche to maximize their bottom lines.

As a result, in both home and host countries, MNCs have increasingly become the target of intense scrutiny-and criticism-by community and advocacy groups concerned with a wide array of negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of corporate activity. In response, many MNCs have developed voluntary "codes of conduct" in order to demonstrate their social responsibility to the skeptical public. However, because they are confined to narrow issue sets and lack monitoring, public disclosure, and enforcement mechanisms, these codes have little credibility in the eyes of activists and interested advocacy groups.

The California Global Corporate Accountability Project is working to enhance the international social and environmental performance of U.S. MNCs by moving the debate away from corporate voluntarism and toward innovations in corporate governance, both internally within firms and externally via government regulation.

In order to explore both national/global and local-level tools and regulatory handles, the CAP project focuses on sectors and corporations headquartered or with a high degree of business activity in California. The project has initially focused on the oil and high tech sectors. We have conducted field investigations on the high tech sector in Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Costa Rica and India. Investigations in the oil sector have been undertaken in Ecuador, the Caspian region, and Nigeria.

In March 2002, the project released 'Whose Business? A Handbook for Corporate Responsiblity on Human Rights and the Environment'. 'Whose Business?' is designed as a guide for educators, students and activists to promote corporate social responsibility and accountability worldwide. The handbook articulates the links between environmental, labor rights and human rights in a context of globalization. It provides also provides resources and contact information on major human rights, labor and environmental groups.

During the Spring of 2002, we will release our draft book-length public policy report that evaluates the benefits and drawbacks of codes of conduct. The report will examine the innovations in governance tools and policies which focus largely on improving the quality and credibility of information through monitoring, disclosure, and verification as well as on defining and enforcing environmental and social performance benchmarks. We will host our second NGO-Industry Policy Dialogue Workshop around the findings of the public policy report.

Financial support for this project is provided by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the Ford Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation For further information or to contribute to this project, please contact Michelle Leighton at

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