Small businesses and stakeholders: towards successful, sustainable companies
Heledd Mair Jenkins, The ESRC Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society , Cardiff Un, United Kingdom
The stakeholder concept has become a central idea in understanding business/society relationships. There is an inherent acceptance that all businesses have stakeholders, and that managing them appropriately can help reduce risk and improve all companies' social responsibility (European Commission & Observatory of European SMEs, 2002; Irwin, 2002). However, stakeholder research has tended to focus on the ‘corporation’ or large company. While the important contribution of SMEs to social responsibility and sustainability is increasingly recognised, crucial questions such as which stakeholders are significant to Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs), how do SMEs engage with their stakeholders, and what is the nature of these relationships have rarely been asked. By drawing on evidence from in-depth interviews with small businesses across the UK, this paper explores these issues.

SME definitions of stakeholders are as heterogeneous in nature as SMEs themselves; companies talk about those who have an ‘interest’ a ‘stake’ a ‘connection’ in the company and those who ‘influence’, ‘affect’ or ‘depend’ on the company, other commonly used terms are ‘ownership’ and ‘owing’. The identification of key stakeholders is, however, consistent and they are employees, suppliers and customers. Examples are provided of how small businesses have developed relationships with key stakeholders that lead to socially responsible, successful and sustainable companies. These include

• SMEs who seek to teach suppliers best practice, promote social responsibility and develop learning networks • SMEs who seek to develop innovative relationships with employees • SMEs who seek to develop environmentally conscious, innovative products through working with customers and suppliers

It has become increasingly clear that today’s successful companies are those that recognise that they have responsibilities to a wide range of stakeholders. SMEs do recognise this and have a clear role in developing stakeholder relationships that contribute to more sustainable and socially responsible companies.

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