Sarah Soule: How Activism Can Fuel Corporate Social Responsibility
Activism has catalyzed progress, but companies can be slow to evolve. How can activists know that their efforts matter? And what is the evidence that their work makes a difference?
History shows that social movements can shape our society. In the United States, things would be very different without the campaign for women’s suffrage, the public outcry that led up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the environmental protests that preceded the ban on DDT and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Activism targeting companies like Walmart, Nike, and BP has catalyzed progress, too. But companies can be slow to evolve, and it is often hard to know which strategies are most likely to get companies to change their ways. In some cases, activists may not see any results for years. So how can activists know that their efforts matter? And what is the evidence that their work makes a difference?
Recent research by my colleague
Though neither the creation of CSR board committees nor the institution of CSR reports provides a clear “yes” to activist demands, such shifts in corporate practices indicate that the door to change is cracked open. Both actions provide a platform for increased discussion of issues internally and make a firm more vulnerable to future activism, according to Soule’s findings.
Soule and her colleagues cite Nike as one example of how a firm’s response to activism – in all its forms, from protests to boycotts to social proxy proposals – changes over time. Soule’s book
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