Redefining legal boundaries in environmental & labor governance: transnational firms and local social movements

Authors: Annabel Ipsen*, Michigan State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environment, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: law, environmental governance, repeat players, transnational firms, social movements
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Studio 10, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the legal strategies that transnational firms in the genetically modified corn seed industry use to stay in local communities when confronted with resistance. I ask how firms’ legal strategies to stay in particular communities affect the ability of local governments and social movements to effectively regulate and mobilize around issues of environmental and labor concerns. My account is based on a multi-sited ethnography of two key research and development (R&D) hubs for the U.S. corn seed market in Chile and Hawaii. Seed firms rely on two main strategies to shape the regulatory environments in the communities where their R&D hubs are situated. First, they embed themselves into local communities by hiring locals and reframing their work to coincide with local culture. Second, they develop cooperative relationships with local institutions. While firms use these strategies to shape their environments, they are not enough to stay there if they confront an issue that threatens their right to operate. While most studies focus on legal mobilization as a proactive way of protecting civil rights, my study finds that firms use litigation defensively, engaging in what I call strategic legalism to accomplish legal compliance and political containment. This work interrogates law’s potential for instituting social change in diverse legal contexts, shedding new light on the dynamics between law, corporate interest, and the state.

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