Capabilities in, capabilities out: overcoming digital divides by promoting corporate citizenship and fair ICT [Book Review]

Ethics and Information Technology 13 (4):339-353 (2011)
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Abstract

This conceptual article discusses strategies of corporations in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector and their role in the conflict over access to knowledge in the digital environment. Its main hypothesis is that ICT corporations are very capable actors when it comes to bridging digital divides in both developed and developing countries—maybe even the most capable actors. Therefore, it is argued that ICT corporations could use their capabilities to help citizens gain sustainable access to knowledge in order to enable them to lead self-sufficient lives. In a nutshell, capabilities are presented as both the input (capabilities of ICT corporations) as well as the output (capability building for empowering citizens) of corporate strategy-making focusing on fair ICT. Corporate citizenship is put forth as the theoretical concept bridging corporate strategies and access to knowledge: If ICT corporations act in accordance with their self-understanding of being ‘good corporate citizens’, they could be crucial partners in lessening digital divides and helping citizens gain access to knowledge. From the perspective of ‘integrative economic ethics’ (Ulrich 2008), it is argued that ICT corporations have good reason to actively empower citizens in both developed and developing countries by pursuing ‘inclusive’ strategies in many fields, such as open-source software development. That way, ICT corporations could enable, support and provide citizens with capabilities enabling them to help themselves. In order to make inclusive business models work, the rules and regulations companies find themselves in today must enable them to act responsibly without getting penalized by more ruthless competitors. This article explores several cases from the ICT field to illustrate the interplay between a responsible business model and the rules and regulations of the industry. From a capabilities perspective, the most desirable mix of corporate strategies and industry regulation is one that results in the highest level of generativity (Zittrain 2008). Thus, ICT should not be closed systems only driven by the company behind them. Instead, they need to be open for the highest possible level of third-party innovation.

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