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The Big Five International Oil Companies as Responsible Stakeholders in the Global Economy

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Abstract:

The Big Five Oil Companies—ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell—are among the world's most influential and profitable companies. This article explores the extent to which these companies act as "responsible stakeholders," seeking to understand how the big five international oil companies approach, incorporate, and interact with global norms related to responsible behaviour, while also dealing with rapidly changing energy markets. However, the big five have to deal with conflicting pressures: on the one hand, they are under legal obligation to enhance shareholder value; on the other hand, they must address issues of human rights, climate change, and transparency and accountability. The tension between these competing pressures is compounded by the fact that the countries with the most abundant extractive resources are often those with ineffective or corrupt governments. Nevertheless, the big five also have substantial influence as some of the largest investors in these countries. Accordingly, while they are obligated to respect host government sovereignty, they are under increasing pressure to change the behaviour of their host governments. The extent to which the big five can act as responsible stakeholders is questionable, as the concept of responsibility in this context is ill-defined, and while these firms have adopted a number of CSR policies, most of them are ad-hoc, voluntary, and limited. While we hope that the big five will invest in alternative energies and take human right and climate change issues more seriously, this "responsible" future looks doubtful.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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