Social Movements and Their Impact on Business and Management
- Sarah A. SouleSarah A. SouleGraduate School of Business, Stanford University
Do the activities of social movements (e.g., public protest, shareholder activism, boycotts, and sabotage) impact businesses, and if so, how do they impact businesses? When confronted by activist demands, how do firms respond, and does this response vary depending on who the activists are and what their relationship is to the firm? Answering these questions is critical for businesses and activists alike, as we move into an era of heightened activism directed at firms. A growing area of research that is situated at the intersection of economic and political sociology, social movement studies, history, and organizational theory, tackles these questions, in an increasingly methodologically sophisticated and nuanced manner. As a result, a number of important articles and books have been published, and several high-profile, interdisciplinary conferences have been held. This body of research shows that social movements have both direct and indirect effects on businesses, and that these effects are amplified by media attention to activism. For example, we know that activism impacts the financial performance of firms, as well as their reputation. And, we know that the activities of social movements have consequences on firm policies and practices. In turn, businesses have developed a varied repertoire of ways to respond to activist demands. While some businesses ignore activists, others decide to retaliate against activists. Increasingly, businesses concede to the demands of activists in material ways by changing policies and practices that are criticized, while others devise symbolic ways to respond to activist demands, thereby preserving their reputation without necessarily changing their activities.