Management Responses to Social Activism in an Era of Corporate Responsibility: A Case Study
AbstractSocial activism against companies has evolved in the 50 years since Rachel Carson first put the US chemical industry under pressure to halt the indiscriminate use of the chemical DDT. Many more companies have come under the spotlight of activist attention as the agenda social activists address has expanded, provoked in part by the internationalization of business. During the past fifteen years, companies have begun to formulate corporate responsibility (CR) policies and appointed management teams dedicated to CR, resulting in a change in the way companies interact with social activists. This paper presents findings from a longitudinal case study of managerial responses to social activism targeted at a company with relatively well-advanced CR practices and reputation. The case describes the unfolding of the internal processes over an 8-year period, including the role played by different managers and the tensions in the decision-making processes. The findings emphasize how values and beliefs in the company interact with economic arguments and how those are mediated through functions and relationships in the company and beyond. The paper shows how critical managers’ understanding of the motivations of activists behind the campaign is in shaping their actions. It reveals the paradoxical outcomes that can result from social activism at the level of the firm, the industry, and the field.