Moralizing the Corporation
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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.
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Chapter 6: Business and Society: From Ethical Responsibility to Organizational Reflexivity

Boris Holzer


Corporations are not indifferent to the claims of transnational activism since they know (or have to learn the hard way) that they also reflect consumer preferences. It is therefore rational for organizations to take their social environment seriously. Similar to ‘political consumers’, corporations have to deal with various rationalities and strike a balance between contending notions of correct decision-making. For some companies, it is possible to embrace values with a high degree of legitimacy in their social environment, e.g. the supply of clean, healthy and organic food. For others, only the fear of being ‘branded’ and ‘framed’, i.e. of a potential loss of reputation, leads to the internalization of external demands. The ‘moralized’ corporation is not necessarily an ethical business resulting from value-driven entrepreneurial spirit or ethical conviction. It is to a large degree due to others applying moral standards to corporate behaviour and forcing corporations to anticipate that. Some corporations only surrender to those standards in specific conflict situations. Others seek to anticipate and incorporate the perspectives of critics and stakeholders. In this chapter, I discuss how organizations tune their identities to broader societal values and expectations. Some firms rely strongly on values that are seemingly uncontested, for instance The Body Shop with its emphasis on animal rights and environmental protection. But many corporations cannot claim such a strong affiliation with highly valued principles. Most of them therefore regard societal values and expectations as external constraints on their business practice. Consequently those constraints have to be enforced from the...

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