Corporations have faced a rising tide of activism by social movements over the past generation. Consumer boycotts, protests, divestment campaigns, shareholder proposals, and employee insurgencies have all become near-daily occurrences. At the same time, the range of issues that have become fair game for activism have expanded to include basic business decisions: what kinds of products to offer, which executives to appoint, whom to work with as customers and suppliers, where to locate operations, or how to engage the political system, to name just a few. But has the new wave of activism made a difference? Do social movements actually improve corporate behavior, or do they just prompt public relations efforts detached from the real activities of the business? In this essay, we consider three alternative perspectives on this question, and along the way review the ample research that has appeared on social movements and organizations over the past 20 years. Previewing where we end up: we do not reach a consensus conclusion, but we do learn a lot along the way and make several suggestions for future research that might get us closer to answering this question.
About Rutgers Business Review
Gerald F. Davis
University of Michigan
Gerald F. Davis received his PhD from Stanford and taught at Northwestern and Columbia before moving to the University of Michigan, where he is Gilbert and Ruth Whitaker Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Sociology. He has published widely in...
Brayden G. King
Brayden King is the Max McGraw Chair of Management and the Environment and a Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management. He is also affiliated with the Department of Sociology. Brayden studies the ways in which social movement...
Sarah A. Soule
Sarah Soule is the Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and senior associate dean for academic affairs. Her research focuses on the impact of social movements on corporations and recent papers have been published in the...
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