The marketization of social justice: The case of the Sudan Divestment Campaign
SRI has quickly become a key strategy for investors to change corporate behaviour in areas of human rights, labour standards and environmental sustainability. Generally speaking, SRI refers to an investment policy that considers the social and environmental consequences of investments within the context of rigorous financial analysis (Richardson, 2008). One of the most popular forms of SRI in the US is negative screening, which involves the practice of evaluating, and eventually excluding, investment portfolios or mutual funds based on social and/ or environmental criteria (Social Investment Forum, 2006). A controversial and widespread example of negative screening is the Sudan Divestment Campaign. The main objective of the boycott, which many have referred to as ‘the next big movement’, is to end genocidal activities perpetrated by the Sudanese government by pressuring US institutional investors to sell their shares in publicly traded corporations that are believed to help fund Khartoum’s so-called ‘killing machine’.1 The Sudan boycott presents an interesting and useful case to study the relations of power and paradoxes of struggles for social justice that are framed within, and thus limited by, the parameters of profit maximization. While some observers have been quick to dismiss SRI either as acting contrary to the fiduciary responsibilities of institutional investors or as mere window dressing, I believe there are more crucial social and political implications at stake than the dominant technical and economistic debates and analyses choose to acknowledge. A key question driving these debates, for instance, has been based on the same market ethic – profit maximization – as the corporate governance doctrine: Can social investment funds bring about social justice while delivering not only economic benefits, but also superior financial rewards? This has led to framing discussions in terms of the complementarity of, or the tension between, moral concerns (e.g. genocide) and economic concerns (e.g. risk reduction and shareholder value). In contrast, I consider the Sudan boycott and wider SRI movement to represent important features of resistance to corporate power; thus their implications for social change need to be examined critically and explained more fully. I argue that SRI initiatives, including the Sudan boycott, are framed within, and thus limited by, the bounds of the market and its sole focus on profit maximization. This has led to the embedding of struggles into, and thus the reproduction of, market rule, or what I refer to as the marketization
of social justice. The latter has the effect of transforming human suffering into a cost-efficiency calculus, as opposed to fundamentally challenging the capitalist nature of corporate power and the wider investment industry. I develop this argument in five main sections. The first section defines and details the marketization of social justice and its connection to neoliberal-led capitalism while supplying an overview of both the rise and significance of SRI, as well as the debates it has provoked. The second section attempts to demonstrate how the representations of, and official reactions to, the conflict in Sudan have reduced this complex social issue to a one-dimensional tale that can easily be inserted into, and thus dominated by, the financial code and economic laws of investment. The third section examines the Sudan conflict and the divestment campaign by situating these two features of the boycott in the wider context of neoliberal-led capitalism and thereby moving beyond the depoliticizing bounds of the market. The fourth section summarizes some of the consequences of the marketization of social justice. The final section draws some conclusions and highlights various implications for the overall argument of the book.