In this radio interview on 2SER, I discuss the chapter published in the “Research Handbook on the Sociology of Organizations” on “Organizational Legitimacy and Legitimizing Myths.” It suggests that companies, as an influential and dominant group, want to maintain how they are held to account for their social and environmental impacts, which is through market forces. The research contends that the social license to operate and other concepts such as corporate purpose are hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths that uphold this status quo in favour of companies, at the detriment of society.
Over the last two decades many of the world’s largest companies have been involved in scandals, misconduct and dubious ethics. Rather than relying on interventions by public authorities, the dominant governing rationality is informed by the belief that the market is able to balance social, environmental, and financial interests. However, the vast majority of companies that have been involved in ethical transgressions have survived – and have even thrived. Potential damage to the reputation of companies, or threats to their ‘social license to operate’, seems to have had a limited effect. There is therefore reason to believe that market forces are not adequate by themselves to correct corporate misbehaviour.
This chapter from the upcoming ‘Research Handbook on the Sociology of Organizations’ explores the reliance on market forces to correct corporate actions that are not aligned with the common good. It examines to what extent legitimacy theory adequately explains the dynamics around organizational legitimacy, and it proposes an expansion of legitimacy theory to increase its explanatory power: the use of social dominance theory and legitimizing myths expands (organizational) legitimacy as a theoretical construct. In explaining why antagonistic stakeholders continue to rely on market-based approaches, this research suggests that they have either bought into the hierarchy-enhancing myths, or they have not yet developed compelling hierarchy-attenuating myths to challenge the status quo. The chapter concludes with the suggestion that the ‘social license to operate’ and ‘corporate purpose’ are legitimizing myths that uphold the idea that the market can balance social, environmental, and financial interests.
The open letter to Coles and Woolworths was covered by the New Daily and the supermarkets have written a response to our letter. The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), who have been engaging both supermarkets since 2017, have prepared a response to the supermarkets. You can find the response here:
What’s next? A Shareholder Resolution!
Justine Nolan, Laurie Berg and Martijn Boersma have supported a shareholder resolution by ACCR that will be heard at the Coles AGM on the 13th November 2019. You can help by calling on UniSuper to support the resolution. All you need to do is send them a message here. You can use the sample text below, copy and paste, or write your own.
Multistakeholder initiatives are often heralded as a solution to many social and environmental issues. Yet, due to their composition, these initiatives are not without tensions and challenges. This paper examines which factors determine the (il)legitimacy of multistakeholder initiatives in the context of efforts to remediate child labor.
Child labor in global supply chains is increasingly addressed through multistakeholder initiatives. However, the participation of stakeholders with distinct views and interests can generate tensions. Based on interviews with civil society actors, this research finds that tensions exist between the normative‐ethical and political‐strategic dimensions of multistakeholder initiatives, which are manifest in the existence of international and national norms and their contextual application, in definitions of child labor, risk and responsibility, and in doubts about corporate incentives to join multistakeholder initiatives. In addition, tensions exist concerning the effectiveness of supply chain auditing, enabling broader labor rights as a means to remediate child labor, and whether standards need to be mandatory or self‐regulation suffices. The success of collaboration depends on the effective navigation of these tensions. Failure to do so can undermine the legitimacy of multistakeholder initiatives from the perspective of civil society actors. The research finds that due diligence, in the shape of human rights risk assessments, is not subject to normative‐ethical/political‐strategic tensions, and can play a key role in the success of multistakeholder initiatives and the fight against child labor.
In June 2018, the Senate referred an inquiry into the exploitation of general and specialist cleaners working in retail chains for contracting or subcontracting cleaning companies to the Education and Employment References Committee. A submission to this inquiry was made by the Centre for Social and Business Innovation at the University of Technology, and a colleague and myself participated in a public hearing in September 2018.
A growing body of evidence indicates the need for a consistent industry-wide approach for employment standards for cleaners; and the consideration of alternative business and employment models for the cleaning industry. Non-compliance with existing regulations right across the supply chain, have been found to disrupt tenant operations, and have resulted in negative outcomes for cleaners. These have included underpayments, the loss of superannuation payments, sham contracting arrangements, uncertainty and financial hardship. Addressing these issues will require a range of solutions, both regulatory and non-regulatory. While improved enforcement will address some issues, alternative business models and support for voluntary frameworks to establish industry-wide frameworks for employment standards pertaining to cleaners also have a role to play.
Apple has become the first American company to reach US$1 trillion in market capitalisation – US$1,000,000,000,000 in stockmarket value. Behind this glittering success, however, lies
a series of unresolved ethical dilemmas a history of staggering labour exploitation.
The approaches of Apple and the other giant US platform technology companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon) to corporate taxation, concentration and privacy have attracted widespread criticism.
But as a manufacturing company Apple faces a more deep-seated problem. This involves the millions of people employed in its supply chain, which is largely located in China with the major contractor Foxconn.
Our research shows human rights, environmental and ethical problems persist inside Apple’s vast global supply chains.
Why are boards standing by and watching as the companies they govern take our environment to hell in a handbasket? The banks are a case in point, as researcher Martijn Boersma from Catalyst Australia, recently wrote: “While banks frequently mention risk assessments, they nevertheless continue to finance unsustainable activities.” Since 2008, banks collectively have invested tens of billions into the carbon-rich fossil fuel sector, but do not include these details in their CSR reports.
Australian companies will soon be publishing financial results, as well as information about sustainability efforts. Corporate social responsibility of the big four banks – Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac is a continuing topic of debate following recent scandals and reports of unsustainable activities. Yet according to ANZ chairman, David Gonski, Australians ought to “stop bashing the banks” for being large and profitable. This comment should put civil society on guard.