Sociology Seminar Series - Global Markets, Corporate Assurances, and the Legitimacy of State Intervention

​‘Global Markets, Corporate Assurances, and the Legitimacy of State Intervention: Perceptions of Distant Labor and Environmental Problems’

Collective perceptions of harm and impropriety channel the evolution of capitalism, as shown by research on the moral boundaries of markets. But how are boundaries perceived when harms are distant and observers face competing claims from advocacy organizations and corporations? These conditions are particularly salient in global supply chains, where private voluntary initiatives have been formed to address labor exploitation and environmental degradation.

We argue that state intervention is now on the rise, and that popular judgments about state intervention carry new insights for the sociology of markets, morality, policy, and globalization. Analyzing data from a conjoint survey experiment, we find that distant labor and environmental problems (e.g., forced labor, natural resource depletion) provoke varied levels of interest in state intervention as well as different justifications for state intervention. We also find an asymmetry of influence by strategic actors: Transnational advocacy frames shape judgments to some degree, but they fall flat or backfire among conservatives. Corporate promises of reform reduce the perceived importance of state intervention—across political-ideological divides and regardless of credibility. Moving beyond stylized pro-/anti-trade attitudes, these findings reveal implicit logics of a contested moral field and the legitimacy of state intervention at a formative moment.

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