Controversies around large-scale development projects offer many cases and insights which may be analyzed through the lenses of corporate social (ir)responsibility (CSIR) and business ethics studies. In this paper, we confront the CSR narratives and strategies of WeBuild (formerly known as Salini Impregilo), an Italian transnational construction company. Starting from the Global Atlas of Environmental Justice (EJAtlas), we collect evidence from NGOs, environmental justice organizations, journalists, scholars, and community leaders on socio-environmental injustices and controversies surrounding 38 large hydropower schemes built by the corporation throughout the last century. As a counter-reporting exercise, we code (un)sustainability discourses from a plurality of sources, looking at their discrepancy under the critical lenses of post-normal science and political ecology, with environmental justice as a normative framework. Our results show how the mismatch of narratives can be interpreted by considering the voluntary, self-reporting, non-binding nature of CSR accounting performed by a corporation wishing to grow in a global competitive market. Contributing to critical perspectives on political CS(I)R, we question the reliability of current CSR mechanisms and instruments, calling for the inclusion of complexity dimensions in and a re-politicization of CS(I)R accounting and ethics. We argue that the fields of post-normal science and political ecology can contribute to these goals.
Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10551-021-04946-6.
Keywords: Corporate social irresponsibility; Counter-reporting; EJAtlas; Environmental justice; Hydropower schemes; Large dams; Political ecology; Post-normal science; Salini Impregilo; WeBuild.
© The Author(s) 2022.