Society must be protected: Polanyi's 'double movement' and the regulation of conflict goods *

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Author: Mandy Turner
Date: Summer 2007
Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing
Document Type: Article
Length: 8,327 words
Lexile Measure: 1550L

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The multiple ways in which multinational corporations, financial and commodity markets and global trade feed into today's civil wars have recently become a key policy concern of the international community. Over the past five years, a number of initiatives have been launched, aimed at controlling the trade in conflict goods, ensuring good resource governance, advocating corporate social responsibility and promoting conflict-sensitive business practices. This article assesses these initiatives through the lens of Karl Polanyi's conception of the 'double movement', i.e. that capitalism automatically provokes protectionist impulses. It assesses the spaces created by neoliberal globalisation for illicit economic activity and conflict entrepreneurs, the relationship between the economy and conflict, and initiatives aimed at reducing conflict 'triggers'. It concludes that, in addition to the tension between commodification and social protection, there is another tension at work: between those who call for tough mandatory policies and those who promote best-practice guidelines.

To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment ... would result in the demolition of society (Polanyi 1957:73).

THE MULTIPLE WAYS IN WHICH MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS (MNCs), financial and commodity markets and global trade feed into today's civil wars have recently become a major source of concern for the international community. It has now been widely documented by both academics and NGOs, for instance, that in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo the proceeds from diamonds, coltan and gold lined the pockets of rival, warring elites (see, for instance, Global Witness 1999; Pugh and Cooper 2004; Partnership Africa Canada 2000; Boege et al. 2006; Collier 2000b; Jakobeit and Cooper 2006; Cortright and Lopez 2002; Duffield 2002; Humphreys zoos). And, in Sierra Leone, the trade in diamonds sustained the rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), thus, argue some, helping to prolong the conflict and making a sustainable peace more difficult to achieve (Partnership Africa Canada 2000; Pugh and Cooper 2004; Keen 2005). The issue of so-called 'blood' or 'conflict' diamonds was even highlighted in a recent Hollywood film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. (1)

In the majority of recent conflicts, governments and rebel movements have resorted to different (and, on occasion, illegal) economic activities to fund their war effort, such as plundering and trading in the natural resources of their own and neighbouring countries, the smuggling of guns and drugs, and the remittances of diaspora communities. (2) Consequently it has become a key policy concern of the international community to curtail the resource and financial flows of the warring factions in order to promote conflict resolution and peacebuilding. In addition, the role of MNCs (particularly from the extractive industry) in war-torn or conflict-prone societies has become a key issue in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda. Campaigning NGOS such as Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada have helped to expose MNCs who have collaborated with warlords, mercenaries and repressive regimes in order to make a profit.

Over the past five years, there has thus emerged a startling array of initiatives aimed at controlling...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A166536500