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Indigenous peoples, corporate social responsibility and the fragility of the interpersonal domain

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This chapter draws on experience at the interface of engagement between indigenous cultures and corporate cultures in Sápmi,1 and indigenous domains in Australia and the Asia-Pacific. We highlight the fragility of corporate actors' and indigenous peoples' dependence on personal relations as the basis for the performance of the formal processes of coexistence and engagement on the ground. We argue that personal relations can provide both a basis for engagement and an arena in which to improve and refine good process in intercultural and place-based relations. In particular, we seek to explore the significance of the interpersonal domain in the translation of corporate culturesand corporate policies into the social sphere, and the retranslation of the interpersonal back into the corporate sphere. In doing so, we pay attention to forms of interaction and engagement that leak through the walls of ‘formal process’ and exist beyond officially recognised frameworks of engagement. Without seeking to dismiss the importance of good structure and process in formal engagement, we argue that meaningful engagement between corporations and indigenous communities remains rooted in the interpersonal domain and the strengths and weaknesses of this need to be acknowledged by all involved. However, given the contingency of the ‘interpersonal’, we see great cause for caution. Rather than being naïvely optimistic about the integration of higher standards of corporate social responsibility into corporate culture in the resources sector through the interpersonal domain, we suggest that this dependence on the interpersonal makes good process vulnerable to staff turnover, changes in corporate leadership and share-market takeovers, and ultimately fails to address structural incapacities to recognise, acknowledge and address social realms within many reresources corporations. It therefore needs to be matched with stronger structural and strategic embedding of good process in corporate structures, and stronger external oversight by civil society and the state.
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Keywords: corporate; domain; fragility; indigenous; interpersonal; peoples; responsibility; social

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 12 November 2008

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