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 4: Framing the Corporation

Boris Holzer

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


A great deal of transnational anti-corporate activism concerns campaigns and public discourses about the quality and reputation of products and producers. Social movement organizations as well as consumer groups and other non-governmental organizations make claims in the public sphere regarding the environmental or ethical qualities of products, the behaviour of companies and the conditions of production. Such claims may be made as part of public deliberation that ultimately expects governmental agencies to introduce appropriate legislation. But they may also be addressed to firms directly. Companies are then expected to react to those claims by offering the right products or changing some aspects of their operations. In the 1970s, Vogel (1978) observed that ‘lobbying the corporation’ – rather than the government – had become an increasingly popular social movement strategy. Today, the more large corporations seem to ‘capture the state’ and ‘rule the world’ (cf. Korten 1995; Monbiot 2000), the more it seems reasonable to address them directly – instead of the supposedly powerless governments. As the notion of corporations as forms of ‘private government’ (Vogel 1975; Macaulay 1986) has gained credibility under conditions of globalization (Cutler et al. 1999), not only scholars but also advocacy groups attribute a great deal of power to large corporations. If activists want to take corporations to task, they need to establish the corporation’s responsibility for alleged wrong-doings. Concerning the effects of production on the natural and social environment, corporate responsibility is often not clear-cut. If the development of cosmetic products involves animal testing, there is no such...

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