Bernie Asher

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In the same way that small businesses were left out of the drive towards corporate social responsibility (CSR), they seem to have been excluded from the business human rights (BHR) agenda as well. Both CSR and its more recent outgrowth, Business Human Rights (BHR), emphasize the need for business organizations to engage in responsible and socially beneficial activities. What is clear from the literature is that, like CSR, BHR has primarily focused on businesses in the formal sector, particularly Transnational Corporations (TNCs), with only minimal attention paid to Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), particularly sole traders, operating within the informal economy. This lack of attention has resulted in a scarcity of empirical investigations into whether informal micro-enterprises, such as sole traders, undertake socially responsible behaviour beyond the well-documented economic contributions they make. As this study will show, informal sole traders do undertake some CSR activities, particularly philanthropic activities, which also fulfil some business human rights obligations.

In line with this, the following research questions were crafted: What socially responsible actions, particularly philanthropic responsibilities, do informal sole traders undertake? How do these actions fulfil some business human rights obligations as laid out in the United Nations Framework for Business Human Rights? And what motivates such socially responsible behaviours? Fanti sole traders living and operating in the Abura community of Cape Coast, the capital city of the Central Region, Ghana, were selected as the research context. The study followed an inductive pathway of inquiry and employed semi-structured interviews and non-participant observation. Thirty sole traders involved in various petty trades, such as second-hand clothes sellers, food vendors, and
iced-water sellers, were interviewed. This was supported with data collected through non-participant observations, all in line with the qualitative nature of the study. Collected data was manually analyzed using thematic analysis. In terms of a theoretical framework, a modified version of Integrative Social Contracts Theory (ISCT) was used. This theory provides a blueprint for how informal sole traders can make socially responsible business choices and decisions in the conduct of their business, which also fulfills some business human rights obligations. This is especially beneficial in the absence of a prescriptive and conclusive set of directions on how such businesses are to act responsibly by agreeing
on a set of normative rules in the form of micro-social contracts towards stakeholders—something the authors of ISCT attribute to the bounded rationality of economic morality. In the present study, it was proposed that the norms inherent in Afro-communitarianism, reputed to be the authentic African ethic, constitute the content of micro-social contracts. According to ISCT, if local community members (such as informal sole traders) freely subscribe to
these norms and retain the right to exit the community, they attain legitimacy. Furthermore, if legitimate norms harmonize with hypernorms, a key example of which is the provisions in the UDHR, then they become authentic norms. The study provides an empirical contribution to the area of small business social responsibility by showing that despite their apparent illegality, informal business
communities made up of sole traders do exhibit some socially responsible behaviour, some of which neatly overlaps with certain BHR obligations. The study contributes to theory by introducing the concept of "superfluous norms" — explained as authentic norms that significantly surpass hypernorms instead of merely meeting the minimum threshold of hypernorms.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Spence, Laura, Supervisor
  • Agyemang, Gloria, Supervisor
Award date1 Aug 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 8 Aug 2023


  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Business Human Rights
  • Informal Economy
  • Afrocommunitarianism
  • Integrated Social Contracts Theory
  • Microenterprises
  • Sole Traders
  • Cape Coast
  • Akan
  • Fanti

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