David becomes Goliath becomes David: Redefining the Boundaries of Corporate Responsibility
Niklas Egels1 and Jenny Ählström2, (1)School of Economics and Commercial Law at Göteborg University, Sweden; (2)Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden
Despite the increasing attention directed towards corporate responsibility issues in both academia and firms, little research has been conducted on how the evolutionary process of defining the boundaries of firms' responsibilities unfolds. In this paper we start to address this research void with a study of how the boundaries of firms' responsibilities were defined, and redefined, in the Swedish garment retailing industry between 1996 and 2004. We analyze the characteristics, and highlight the complexity, of this process. In particular we show how an organization with limited financial and human resources potentially can dictate and redefine the boundaries for an entire industry and its suppliers. At first sight the studied process looks like David bringing Goliath to his knees. An analysis based on Actor-Network Theory, however, shows that it rather is an example of how David successively grows into a Goliath by persuading other actors to accept its proposed boundaries of responsibility. Eventually, some of these actors though refuse to be silenced and speak up reversing six years of successful efforts of establishing a new definition of firms' responsibilities in the Swedish garment retailing industry. The paper provides three different valuable contributions. First, it constitutes one of the few empirical studies on how the boundaries of firms' responsibilities are established. Second, it shows that these processes of establishing boundaries can be viewed as a battle over the right of interpretation and that this battle can be won by small organizations. Third, it provides a valuable extension of Actor-Network Theory into the realm of social issues in business.
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