Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2011-2012 (archived)

Module LAW40415: Corporate Social Responsibility

Department: Law

LAW40415: Corporate Social Responsibility

Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2011/12 Module Cap None.
Tied to M1K116
Tied to M1K316
Tied to M1K616


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module aims to introduce students to legal issues concerning corporate social responsibility in the international business arena. It requires students to explore ideas of international legal personality, state responsibility and international civil society. It considers the relationship between binding forms of international law and soft law measures, notably corporate codes of conduct. Students will engage with the debates over the role of international organisations in promoting business compliance with human rights and environmental norms, and over the merits of voluntarism v. compulsory forms of regulation in this area. They will learn how to research issues of corporate social responsibility using a variety of official and academic sources.


  • The content of the module will typically be:
  • Corporations as international actors and the idea of international civil society;
  • Voluntarism v. compulsion as regulatory methods for corporate social responsibility;
  • State responsibility for the acts of corporations that violate international norms on human rights and the environment;
  • Corporate codes of conduct as soft law; implementing and enforcing codes of conduct;
  • The relationship between international norms on human rights or environmental standards and codes of conduct;
  • The role of international organisations in promoting or enforcing corporate social responsibility: the OECD and the ILO;
  • European Union policies on corporate social responsibility;
  • The UN Global Compact and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises;

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will have an understanding of the complexities of regulating corporate social responsibility at the intersection of corporate governance and public international law. They will have an understanding of the debates over the optimal forms of regulation of transnational corporations. They will have an understanding of the role of international human rights and environmental norms in the regulation of the activities of transnational corporations. They will have an understanding of the role of various international organisations in developing rules and monitoring systems for corporate social responsibility.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will learn how to use materials from international intergovernmental organisations, international non-governmental organisations and transnational corporations, as well as academic literature.
  • Students will learn how to use concepts from public international law in examining the activities of transnational corporations in the international business arena.
Key Skills:
  • understanding of complex materials
  • ability to describe accurately and comprehensibly the arguments and analysis of other commentators
  • ability to evaluate critically the arguments of others

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module will be taught through seminar classes; students will be required to do advanced reading so as to be able to engage in discussion. Students will progressively acquire the knowledge necessary to engage in a more sophisticated analysis of the problems under consideration and to critically assess both primary sources (legislation, case law, treaties) and secondary sources (scholarship, reports etc). The module will be assessed by means of one 3000-word essay, which will be based on common themes developed in the seminars, and will require independent research. The formative essay will support the skills required for the summative essay.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Weekly 2hrs 16
Preparation and reading 134
Total 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Summative Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3000 words 100% Yes

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of 1000 words

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University