Good firms, good targets: The relationship among corporate social responsibility, reputation, and activist targeting

Brayden G. King, Mary Hunter McDonnell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

71 Scopus citations


Much research on social movements and organizations contends that there is an empirical link between activists' contentious activity and corporate social responsibility (CSR; e.g., Bartley 2007; Campbell 2007; Soule 2009). Typically, we assume that activists influence firms' CSR practices directly. Activists target corporations in order to pursue their social change agendas, hoping to influence those companies to change their policies or practices (King and Pearce 2010). Targeting corporations gives activists a way to directly address their grievances and influence a firm to amend an undesirable practice (King and Soule 2007; Walker, Martin, and McCarthy 2008; Lenox and Eesley 2009). For example, if a retail firm regularly sources its products from manufacturers that employ sweatshop labor, activists may raise concerns about this inflammatory practice by protesting the firm or boycotting it. Getting in the activists' spotlight puts public pressure on firms to change their practices, especially inasmuch as movement tactics draw unwanted negative attention from the media that could influence the public's perceptions about a firm's level of social responsibility (King 2008, 2011; Bartley and Child 2011). Another way that activists shape CSR is by encouraging corporations to engage in prosocial actions as protective measures against potential activist campaigns. Fearing that they will become protest, lawsuit, or boycott targets, firms seek to build their reputation as "virtuous" firms with the belief that activists will go after the most grievous violators of social and ethical norms. Proactive social responsibility is thought to deter activists from opportunistically launching campaigns against a company (Maxwell, Lyon, and Hackett 2000; Baron and Diermeier 2007; Godfrey, Merrill, and Hansen 2009). Used in this way, CSR practices and prosocial claims are both reputation-building activities and deterrents of future activism. Although we have a growing body of evidence indicating that direct pressure from social movements influences firms to adopt prosocial practices, we have less evidence that firms are successful in using CSR to deter future activism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCorporate Social Responsibility in a Globalizing World
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781316162354
ISBN (Print)9781107098596
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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