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Political Science in Europe

Dynamics and Ambiguities of Corporate Naming and Shaming in the Global Economy

Civil Society
Social Media
Judith van Erp
University of Utrecht
Judith van Erp
University of Utrecht

Global naming and shaming campaigns against harmful behavior of corporations are now a common feature of modern political economies. Shaming campaigns can articulate, express and enforce social norms in the global economy and can empower victims of corporate crimes against crimes of the powerful. Corporations are reported to experience the informal power exercised through internet and social media as more threatening to their reputations than power exercised by formal institutions. In the light of the diminishing sanctioning power of states in the global economy, naming and shaming corporations has been suggested as an alternative or supplement for regulatory enforcement against corporations. On the other hand however, corporate reputations have sometimes been found resilient to naming and shaming, thus calling the actual impact of naming and shaming into question.
The many unanswered empirical questions that shaming raises, point to the absence of a more general theory on how combinations of political, civil society and shareholder pressure influence corporations in global markets. Naming and shaming corporations has been studied in various disciplines and through various methods. Currently however, no overarching theory on the working mechanisms, effects, and conditions for effects exists. This paper develops the argument for an integrated theory on shaming, combining theories on the role of reputation and social norms in socio-economic relations, with theories on strategic and political behavior of corporate actors and NGO’s, as well as scholarship on media logics, frames and social media. Integration of extant scholarship into an interdisciplinary theory of shaming may help understanding the dynamics and ambiguities in the naming and shaming of corporations and its impact on corporate reputations in different conditions.
This paper draws on criminological scholarship on media representations of corporate crimes; political science scholarship on the strategic political roles and activities of corporations and corporate-NGO relations, and business and society literature on stakeholder relations and (the ambiguities of) reputational damage. The paper also discusses the legal and media strategies corporations use to protect their reputations, and/or actively exploit ambiguities.
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