Good Firms, Good Targets: The Relationship between Corporate Social Responsibility, Reputation, and Activist Targeting

Corporate Social Responsibility in a Globalizing World: Toward Effective Global CSR Frameworks. Edited by Kiyoteru Tsutsui and Alwyn Lim. (Forthcoming)

30 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2012 Last revised: 3 Jan 2013

Date Written: June 1, 2012

Abstract

Organizational scholarship has become increasingly interested in the relationships between corporate social responsibility, reputation, and movement activism. Activist groups target corporations in order to pursue their social change agendas. These groups are not only motivated to alter particular companies’ policies and practices, but they also use corporations as public platforms through which to communicate their causes to a broader audience. Some scholars have posited that corporations seek to protect themselves from activist targeting by building strong reputations and engaging in socially responsible behavior. By outwardly projecting an image of being a virtuous company, these firms hope to develop goodwill with activists and deter the activists from making public attacks against them. Our study assesses the extent to which a strong reputation and claims about social responsibility buffer firms from activist pressure. Using data on corporate boycotts, we find that corporate attempts to create a reputable, socially responsible image actually make firms more vulnerable to being targeted by activists. We argue that building a strong reputation as a socially responsible firm creates certain expectations, making incongruent behavior more noticeable and damaging to the firm’s image. In addition, we suggest that activists target reputable firms because they seek to draw more public attention to their causes.

Keywords: social movements, corporate social responsibility, reputation, organization theory

Suggested Citation

King, Brayden and McDonnell, Mary-Hunter, Good Firms, Good Targets: The Relationship between Corporate Social Responsibility, Reputation, and Activist Targeting (June 1, 2012). Corporate Social Responsibility in a Globalizing World: Toward Effective Global CSR Frameworks. Edited by Kiyoteru Tsutsui and Alwyn Lim. (Forthcoming) . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2079227 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2079227

Brayden King

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Mary-Hunter McDonnell (Contact Author)

The Wharton School - The University of Pennsylvania ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

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