The most important goal and responsibility of corporations in a dominant world capitalist market system has been described as seeking and maximizing profits for their shareholders. Indeed, within the standard rationalist view of that system, organizational identities, values, and legitimacy have been bound by such responsibilities and related performance and goals have been framed as the one and only social duty of a corporation. However, there also have been challenges to these views and, especially since the late 1990s and early 2000s, with growing public awareness of serious social and environmental problems generated or exacerbated by related business practices, corporations increasingly have attempted to present themselves as socially responsible and ethical world actors. Looking particularly at multinational corporations and considering issues such as environmental destruction, maltreatment and exploitation of workers, increasing economic inequality, human rights abuses, and corruption associated with many corporate activities around the world, this research investigates shifting and competing corporate identity claims, ranging from profit maximizing and wealth-seeking to socially aware, concerned, and responsible leaders, along with the emergence of alternative organizational forms such as 'benefit corporations'. While invoked often in stark contrast to profit maximization and destructive predator identities, claims positing social consciousness are interrogated relative to the contested terrain in which they operate, questioning system maintenance as opposed to system change in the performance of organizational social identities and their broader impacts. The overall contribution is the development of an analytical framework delineated in terms of ontology, structure, and legitimacy as basic dimensions for examining corporate identity assertions in relation to actual performance and social impact in the world polity.
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