Responsibility and Global Justice A Social Connection Model Paper Many of the theorists we have read recently believe that corporations can reasonably be e

Responsibility and Global Justice A Social Connection Model Paper Many of the theorists we have read recently believe that corporations can reasonably be expected to take on responsibilities of justice.This prompt invites you to provide an example where this seems to be the case – where a for-profit corporation is also and simultaneously working to promote justice on a local, national, and/or global level.Please draw from theorists we have read recently (Young onwards) to support your positive assessment of the corporation.The corporation need not be perfect: if the corporation is failing in some regard, please note it and offer a recommendation for what it might do instead. RESPONSIBILITY AND GLOBAL JUSTICE:
By Iris Marion Young
I. Introduction
In this essay, I clarify the status of claims about global justice and
injustice that are increasingly voiced and accepted in our world. Such
claims present a problem for political philosophy because until recently
most philosophical approaches to justice assumed that obligations of justice hold only between those living under a common constitution within
a single political community. I will argue that obligations of justice arise
between persons by virtue of the social processes that connect them;
political institutions are the response to these obligations rather than their
basis. I develop an account of some of these social processes as structural
processes, and I argue that some harms come to people as a result of
structural social injustice. Claims that obligations of justice extend globally for some issues, then, are grounded in the fact that some structural
social processes connect people across the world without regard to political boundaries.
The second and more central project of this essay is to theorize about
the responsibilities moral agents may be said to have in relation to such
global social processes. How ought moral agents, whether individual or
institutional, conceptualize their responsibilities in relation to global injustice? I propose a model of responsibility based on social connection as an
interpretation of obligations of justice arising from structural social processes. I begin, in Section II, with an examination of various views on the
extent of obligations of justice. In Section III, I turn to a discussion of
justice in the transnational processes of production, distribution, and marketing of clothing, which I use as an example to illustrate the operations
of structural social processes that extend widely across regions of the
The “social connection model” of responsibility says that all agents
who contribute by their actions to the structural processes that produce
* Thanks to David Alexander, Daniel Drezner, David Owen, and Ellen Frankel Paul for
comments on an earlier version of this essay. Thanks to David Newstone for research
I have begun analysis of global labor justice, focusing on the anti-sweatshop movement,
in two previous papers: Iris Young, “From Guilt to Solidarity: Sweatshops and Political
Responsibility,” in Dissent, Spring 2003: 39–45; and Iris Marion Young, “Responsibility and
Global Labor Justice,” Journal of Political Philosophy 12, no. 4 (2004): 365–88.
© 2006 Social Philosophy & Policy Foundation. Printed in the USA.
injustice have responsibilities to work to remedy these injustices. I discuss
the notion of “structural injustice” in Section IV. In Section V, I distinguish
the social connection model from a more standard model of responsibility, which I call a “liability model.” I specify five features of the social
connection model of responsibility that distinguish it from the liability
model: it does not isolate perpetrators; it judges background conditions of
action; it is more forward-looking than backward-looking; its responsibility is essentially shared; and it can be discharged only through collective action. In Section VI, I sketch four parameters of reasoning that
agents can use for thinking about their own action in relation to structural
II. Global Connections and Obligations of Justice
A widely accepted philosophical view continues to hold that the scope
of obligations of justice is defined by membership in a common political
community. On this account, people have obligations of justice only to
other people with whom they live together under a common constitution,
or whom they recognize as belonging to the same nation as themselves.
In all of his writing on justice, for example, John Rawls assumes that the
scope of those who have obligations of justice to one another is a single
relatively closed society.2 The members of each such society are mutually
bound by obligations of justice they do not have to outsiders. This is not
to say that insiders have no moral obligations to outsiders. There are
some moral obligations that human beings have to one another as human;
these are cosmopolitan obligations or obligations to respect human rights.
In The Law of Peoples, Rawls reiterates that principles of justice as fairness
mutually oblige the members of a given society to one another, yet do not
apply to the moral relationships among people belonging to different
societies across the globe. The law of peoples —which does apply across
societies —is broader and thinner than justice as fairness.3
Philosopher David Miller also conceives principles of justice as having
in their scope only relations among those persons who dwell together
within the same nation-state. Obligations to organize coercive institutions
to ensure distributive fairness according to need, desert, and equal respect
obtain only between persons who belong together in the same nationstate and who live under a single political constitution.4 Miller worries
that a globalizing world is making state sovereignty more porous and
liable to being affected by and affecting persons and circumstances outside these nation-state borders. He concludes from this undeniable fact
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971/1999),
John Rawls, The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), sec. 1,
pp. 11–22.
David Miller, On Nationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
not that principles of justice should follow these globalizing trends, but
rather that social justice itself may be a historically specific idea and set of
practices whose time is past.5
As I understand the logic of this position, it holds that obligations of
justice presuppose the existence of shared political institutions. It is incoherent to say that relationships between people are unjust or just, on this
interpretation, in the absence of shared institutions for adjudicating such
claims or regulating people’s relations. Some more general and less stringent obligations obtain between persons across political jurisdictions just
because they are human, but these are not obligations of justice.
A contrary position about moral obligation is one that I will call the
“cosmopolitan-utilitarian model.” On this view, nation-state membership
or any other sort of particularist relationship among persons is irrelevant
to assessing the nature, depth, or scope of obligations they have to one
another. Moral agents have identical obligations to all human beings and
perhaps to some nonhuman creatures. There is a moral imperative to
minimize suffering, wherever it occurs. Every agent is obliged to do what
he or she can to minimize suffering everywhere, right up to the point
where he or she begins to suffer. Membership in a political order, either
on the part of the agent or the sufferers, is relevant only instrumentally as
providing efficient means of discharging obligations and distributing particular tasks. Much about global relationships, however, can override this
issue of convenience. Peter Singer and Peter Unger are two prominent
examples of theorists who hold this view.6
I think that each of these accounts is wanting. Critics of the cosmopolitanutilitarian model argue that it is too demanding.7 It flies in the face of
moral intuition, moreover, to suggest that all moral agents have exactly
the same duties to all other agents and no special obligations to some
subset of persons with whom an agent has a special relationship. While
the basic moral respect owed to all persons grounds the cosmopolitan
obligations that Immanuel Kant calls hospitality,8 obligations of justice
require more and are based on more than common humanity.
Nevertheless, critics of the position that limits the scope of obligations
of justice to members of a common political order are right to argue that
it is arbitrary to consider nation-state membership as a source of obligations of justice. Political communities have evolved in contingent and
David Miller, Principles of Social Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1999), chap. 1.
See Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), chaps.
2 and 9; and Peter Unger, Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1996).
See, for example, Samuel Scheffler, Boundaries and Allegiances: Problems of Responsibility
and Justice in Liberal Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); and Neera K. Badhwar,
“International Aid: When Giving Becomes a Vice,” elsewhere in this volume.
Immanuel Kant, “To Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (1795), in Ted Humphrey,
trans., Perpetual Peace and Other Essays (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983), 107–44.
arbitrary ways that are more connected to power than to moral right.
People often stand in dense relationships with others prior to, apart from,
or outside political communities. These relationships may be such that
people’s actions affect one another in ways that tend to produce conflict.
Or people may cooperate with numbers of others in ongoing practices
and institutions that meet some shared objectives. In such social relations,
we expect fair terms of conflict-resolution and cooperation. Thus, in contrast with the cosmopolitan-utilitarian position, I believe that some account
needs to be offered of the nature of social relationships that ground claims
that people have obligations of justice to one another. It is not enough to
say that the others are human.
The nation-state position, however, makes prior what is posterior from
a moral point of view. Ontologically and morally, though not necessarily
temporally, social connection is prior to political institutions. This is the
great insight of social contract theory. The social connections of civil
society may well exist without political institutions to govern them. A
society consists in connected or mutually influencing institutions and
practices through which people enact their projects and seek their happiness, and in doing so affect the conditions under which others act, often
profoundly. A social contract theory like that of John Locke argues that
the need and desire for political institutions arises because socially connected persons with multiple and sometimes conflicting institutional commitments recognize that their relationships are liable to conflict and
inequalities of power that can lead to mistrust, violence, exploitation, and
domination. The moral status of political institutions arises from the obligations of justice generated by social connection: such institutions are
instruments through which these obligations can be discharged.
In his landmark work Political Theory and International Relations, Charles
Beitz challenged Rawls’s assumption that the scope of obligations of justice extends only among members of a single political community by
arguing that there exists an international society even in the absence of a
comprehensive political constitution to regulate it. Ongoing economic
processes of production, investment, and trade connect people in diverse
regions of the world, and these relationships are often unequal in power
and material resources. People move across borders, and institutions of
expression and communication are increasingly global in their reach. The
activities of many religious, artistic, scientific, legal, and service-providing
institutions and networks extend to many parts of the world without too
much regard for nation-state membership and boundaries. Beitz concludes that principles of justice like those Rawls argues for apply globally
because there are dense global social and economic relationships.9 A need
for political institutions wide enough in scope and sufficiently strong to
Charles Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979).
regulate these relationships to insure their fairness follows from the global
scope of obligations of justice, rather than grounding those obligations.
Onora O’Neill argues somewhat differently to reach a similar conclusion. The scope of an agent’s moral obligation extends to all those
whom the agent assumes in conducting her or his activity. Each of us
pursues our interests and goals within the frame of specific institutions
and practices, and within which we know others do the same. Our
actions are partly based on the actions of others, insofar as we depend
on them to carry out certain tasks, and/or insofar as our general knowledge of what other people are doing enables us to formulate expectations and predictions about events and institutional outcomes that affect
us or condition our actions. In today’s world of globalized markets,
interdependent states, and rapid and dense communication, the scope
of the actors we implicitly assume in many of our actions is often
global. The social relations that connect us to others are not restricted
to nation-state borders. Our actions are conditioned by and contribute
to institutions that affect distant others, and their actions contribute to
the operation of institutions that affect us. Because our actions assume
these others as a condition for our own actions, O’Neill argues, we
have made practical moral commitments to them by virtue of our actions.
That is, even when we are not conscious of or when we actively deny
a moral relationship to these other people, to the extent that our actions
depend on the assumption that distant others are doing certain things,
we have obligations of justice in relation to them.
It is not possible to trace how each person’s actions produce specific
effects on others because there are too many mediating actions and events.
Nevertheless, we have obligations to those who condition and enable our
own actions, as they do to us. O’Neill argues, however, that there is an
asymmetry in these obligations insofar as some people are rendered more
vulnerable to coercion, domination, or deprivation by the institutional
relations. While everyone in the system of structural and institutional
relations stands in circumstances of justice that give them obligations
with respect to all the others, those institutionally and materially situated
to be able to do more to affect the conditions of vulnerability have greater
I interpret both Beitz and O’Neill, along with other theorists of global
justice such as Thomas Pogge,11 as describing transnational social structures, and I interpret the injustices they may generate as structural injustices. Allen Buchanan similarly argues that there exists a global basic
structure that generates obligations of justice between people across
Onora O’Neill, Faces of Hunger (London: Allen and Unwin, 1985); Onora O’Neill, Toward
Justice and Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), chap. 4. Cf. Robert Goodin,
Protecting the Vulnerable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); and Thomas Pogge,
World Poverty and Human Rights (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002), esp. chaps. 1, 2, and 4.
See Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights.
national boundaries.12 Before I conceptualize structural injustice and introduce the concept of responsibility that corresponds to it, however, let me
elaborate a particular example of claims about injustice as involving transnational social connection: namely, the anti-sweatshop movement.
III. Example of Global Injustice: Sweatshops
Although I believe that the social connection model of responsibility
applies to every case of structural injustice, whether local or global, relationships in the global apparel industry offer a perspicuous example
through which I will explain the logic of the social connection model. A
vocal and multilayered anti-sweatshop movement, moreover, has in recent
years pressed claims on a variety of agents to take responsibility for
sweatshop conditions.
Anti-sweatshop activists have made claims on institutions that purchase clothing in bulk, such as city governments,13 or that market clothing bearing their name or logo, such as universities,14 to take responsibility
for the poor conditions under which these garments are produced, often
in factories on the other side of the world. Social movement activists have
also passed out leaflets in front of brand-name apparel stores such as the
Gap or Nike or Disney, or more generic clothing retailers such as Target
and Wal-Mart, explaining that much of the clothing sold in those stores is
made under sweatshop conditions, and calling upon consumers to take
responsibility for those conditions.
Not a few institutions and individuals find absurd the idea that consumers and retailers bear responsibility for working conditions in faraway factories, often in other countries. Not unreasonably, they say that
even if the workers producing the items they buy suffer wrongful exploitation and injustice, we here have nothing to do with it. It is, rather, the
owners and managers of the factories who are to blame. Despite the
apparent reasonableness of this dissociation, the claims of the antisweatshop movement seem to have struck a chord with many individuals
and institutions. I think that to understand why this is so, we need a
conception of responsibility different from the standard notion of blame
or liability.
Allen Buchanan, “Rawls’s Law of Peoples: Rules for a Vanished Westphalian World,”
Ethics 110, no. 4 (2000): 697–721; Allen Buchanan, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination:
Moral Foundations for International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), esp. 83
and 84.
In April 2003, for example, the Milwaukee Common Council voted unanimously for an
ordinance requiring the procurement of apparel for city staff from manufacturers that meet
several labor-rights conditions; see “Sweatfree Communities Gain Ground,” Campaign for
Labor Rights,
Lisa Featherstone, Students against Sweatshops (London: Verso, 2000); Mischa Gaus,
“The Maturing Movement against Sweatshops,” In These Times, February 16, 2004: 34 and 52.
What, then, are “sweatshops”? Many of the articles of clothing, shoes,
and other small consumer items whose production is labor-intensive are
produced in relatively small manufacturing centers in less-developed countries, manufacturing centers that operate at the bottom of a chain of
specification, distribution, and marketing that often involves hundreds of
distinct companies. Research on the global apparel industry has brought
to light that sweatshops abound in North America and Europe.15 The vast
majority of sweatshops, however, operate in less-developed countries.
Among the merchandise purchased in the United States in 2000, 85 percent of footwear and 50 percent of apparel was imported.16
Conditions in such manufacturing facilities vary of course, but the
following are typical. The vast majority of workers are female, and often
as young as thirteen or fourteen. They are often treated in dominative and
abusive ways by bosses, and sexual harassment is common. Typically,
they work ten- to sixteen-hour days in peak seasons; if the manufacturer
is behind on an order, the workers may be forced to work through the
night. They have few bathroom breaks or other opportunities for rest
during their long working day. Sick leave or vacation time are generally
unavailable; a worker too ill to work is often fired. Violations of the most
basic health and safety standards are normal. Factories are often excessively hot with no ventilation, insufficient lighting, excessive noise, little
fire-fighting equi…
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