Accepted Paper:

Transparency and the global gaze: the UN and the problem of social accountability  

Author:

Christina Garsten (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will address the UN as a transnational, multilateral organization involved in the regulation of social accountability at a global level. The paper addresses how ‘transparency’ is perceived and put forward by the UN Global Compact as an important regulatory concept in relation to corporate social accountability in transnational trade.

Paper long abstract:

In an expanding global economy, 'transparency' has gained increased currency as an organizational goal. In a wide variety of situations, 'transparency' is held up as a panacea for the ills that transnational trade and corporate power may bring along. A number of transnational organizations, including the UN, has placed transparency on top of their agendas in the pursuit of social accountability for business. 'Transparency' has emerged as a key ingredient of 'audit culture'.

The current significance of 'transparency' is evinced in the creation of voluntary corporate 'codes of conduct' and standards for 'corporate social accountability', encouraged through the UN Global Compact. Through workshops, training sessions and consultancy services, corporate managers are learning how to 'open their books' to public scrutiny and judgement. Yet, processes of making visible certain kinds of information also involve complex negotiations regarding what shall be displayed and what shall remain hidden. Transparency may thus be seen as a technology that allows for enhanced visibility of organizational decisions practices - but also for a shadowing of these.

The paper will address the UN as a transnational, multilateral organization involved in the regulation of social accountability at a global level. The paper addresses how 'transparency' is perceived and put forward as an important regulatory concept in relation to corporate social accountability in transnational trade. The discussion builds on in-depth interviews with UN staff, with senior managers of corporations, as well as multi-sited fieldwork in Europe and the US.

Panel W019
The anthropology of the United Nations