Moralizing the Corporation

Moralizing the Corporation

Transnational Activism and Corporate Accountability

Boris Holzer

This insightful book examines how transnational corporations respond to the challenges of anti-corporate activism and political consumerism. In prominent cases involving major corporations such as Nestlé, Nike and Royal Dutch/Shell, transnational activists have successfully mobilized public opinion and consumers against alleged corporate misdemeanours. Campaigns and boycott calls can harm a corporation’s image but, as this book points out, public scrutiny also gives corporations the opportunity to present themselves as responsible and accountable corporate citizens who subscribe to the very norms and values propagated by the activists.

Chapter 2: Corporate Power and the Power of its Critics

Boris Holzer

Subjects: business and management, corporate social responsibility, organisation studies, public management, politics and public policy, public administration and management


The history of economic globalization is bound up with the rise of large corporations (Dunning 1993; Sklair 1995; Dicken 1998). Long before ‘globalization’ became such a buzzword, the globally oriented, multinational corporation was under scrutiny as an ‘emerging power’ (Barber 1968) and as a threat to the sovereignty of the nation-state (Vernon 1973). In a world society increasingly marked by transnational economic and cultural linkages, transnational corporations (TNCs) have undoubtedly acquired an important position as the producers and distributors of goods and services. They have transcended a role of mere economic units and have become an important cultural and – according to some critical observers – even political force (Barnet and Müller 1974; Sklair 2002). Although TNCs are subject to regulation by the nation-state, their transnational reach appears to endow them with a superior position of power. Their investment decisions and employment policies can be crucial to the economic well-being of whole regions. Striving to secure economic growth and political stability, nation-states enter a global competition for investment. In such a competition, the parameters of regulation, representing potential costs for business, are one of the bargaining resources. Transnational business can use its mobility as a lever to negotiate a favourable position. Accordingly, many observers fear that TNCs will be able to shape the global political agenda to their advantage (Martin and Schumann 1997; Hertz 2001). Large corporations certainly exert significant influence through their decisions. Yet there is nothing peculiar about transnational corporations in this respect. The power of business has always...

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