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Timothy Bartley

The Ohio State University

Beyond decoupling: unions and the leveraging of corporate social responsibility in Indonesia.

Scholars often rely on static and distant images of 'decoupling' to describe the limited influence of 'corporate social responsibility' (CSR), among other organizational and global scripts. New insights can be gained by looking closely at how local advocates seek to leverage symbolic commitments. Leveraging can be a route to what we call 'contingent coupling', a circumstantial shrinking of the gap between legitimating symbols and concrete conditions. Based on interview data, this article maps several modes of leveraging by examining how unions in apparel/footwear factories in Indonesia sought to use foreign brands'/retailers' CSR commitments. The modes include not only cross-border activist campaigns but also more subtle and previously overlooked forms of negotiation. Our qualitative accounts and a quantitative analysis of factories suggest that CSR has been a platform for some modest gains for Indonesian unions, but it has not allowed robust, transformative changes. This elucidation of leveraging suggests hypotheses about conditions for tighter coupling.

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