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 3: Anti-corporate Protest and World Culture: Opposing or Enacting Globalization?

Boris Holzer

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


The mechanisms of contention employed by transnational activism regularly mediate between the global and the local. That raises the question how conflicts between corporations and transnational activism shape globalization. Often it seems that social movement activism defends local interests against corporate intrusion. But campaigns also pick up global topics and apply them to local problems, i.e. they ‘internalize’ them – or, vice versa, they ‘externalize’ their claims to gain leverage from the outside (Tarrow 2005). Local struggles are often ‘marketed’ globally to mobilize support elsewhere and thereby increase the pressure on corporations (Bob 2005). In this chapter, I distinguish two perspectives on the conflict between transnational corporations and activists. Those who focus on the manifest objectives of transnational activism mostly understand it in terms of a power game. The starting point is the assumption that globalization has hitherto been shaped by economic imperatives, represented by the interests of transnational corporations (TNCs), on the one hand and by the political agenda of individual nation-states on the other. Transnational activism challenges and complements the emergence of corporate-led globalization and state-led internationalization. But both globalization and internationalization also facilitate transnational activism by providing it with a technological infrastructure and political opportunities (cf. Maney 2002; Tarrow 2002; 2005). That leads to an interesting dialectic: transnational activism uses the technological means of globalization but, sometimes, turns them against their very origins. From a political economy perspective, large parts of transnational activism therefore seem to constitute an ‘anti-systemic movement’ that can possibly change (maybe even subvert) the...

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