About the Project

The politics of responsibility are everywhere. And the question of what exactly constitutes a “better business” practice leaves no stone unturned. Yet, there remains avoid in the consensus of what responsibility entails, and how best to champion responsibility globally. Responsibility resembles other newspeak such as “empowerment”, “sustainability”, and “development” insofar as the actors who make use of responsibility do so to serve politically motivated agendas. The emerging global attention to responsibility in business practices has fallen short of clearly defining the term. Meanwhile, academics and others attentive to the growing political space of responsibility spotlight the details of related governance structures. This has negated the politics associated with the discourses and language of responsibility found in a wide-array of standards, codes, policies, and laws. Sneyd, Enns, and Hamann Commodity Politicsmanuscript seeks to fill this barren land with seedlings of responsibility politics.

To do so, the manuscript explores responsibility politics linked to countries that produce and export the nuts and bolts that increasingly hold together contemporary North American, European, and Asian lifestyles. The story leads to commodity export-dependent Central Africa, with great attention paid to Cameroon. Petroleum (both oils and crude) account for a considerable wedge of Cameroon’s commodity exports- over 45 percent. That being said, other extractive and agri-food commodities, namely cocoa and forestry products, significantly contribute to government revenues and foreign exchange earnings. The new attentiveness of responsibility in commodity operations by investors aiming to do more than recreate a status-quo approach to commodity exportation warranted the research team to floodlight Cameroon. To piece together the story of the politics of responsibility in commodities, the core question asks ‘in what ways, if any, do the perspectives that commodity stakeholders in Central Africa and in Cameroon utilize to frame their discourses or interventions linked to ‘responsibility’ align or diverge?’ and drives the inductive and exploratory research presented in the manuscript. The political terrain where the manuscript draws lessons of responsibility from is continually besieged by deprivation of basic human capabilities. Large proportions of Cameroonians living below the global income poverty line, malnourishment, informality of the retail and service industries, and authoritarian governance personifies the absence of basic capabilities to live a wholesome and fulfilling life. With this in mind, the research presented in this manuscript unveils how responsibility shapes up in a variety of Central African, specifically Cameroonian, extractive and agri-food industries.

Drawing upon the work on sustainability by Judith Krauss (2017), we map the ways in which different ‘types’ of stakeholders frame ‘responsibility’. As such, we understand responsibility as a multi-dimensional concept. Various definitions of the term employ responsibility as an obligation to do something, and as an assessment of morality. Some emphasize the individual, moral, and temporal dimensions. Others idealize collective responsibility as politically fundamental.  In our approach, we focus on how differently-situated actors in commodity politics use powerful terms in contrasting ways. And we are convinced that commodity stakeholders emphasize different dimensions of responsibility in their communications on the matter. Taken together, we believe responsibility embodies democratic, moral, legal, and performance dimensions. With this, we detail and analyse the political contests that shape up when differently or similarly-situated stakeholders play up different dimensions of responsibility, and the consequential political contests that accompany. We focus our analysis on the broad categories of business, government, civil society, and multilateral and bilateral organisations with recognizing the limitations to these categories. Our case studies of palm oil, the Chad-Cameroonian pipeline, gold, sugar, and cocoa in conjunction with a regional and state-level overview on the matter assesses how perspectives on responsibility clash or align in ways that are creating a new politics of commodities.

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