“First They Ignore You . . . “: The Time-Context Dynamic and Corporate Responsibility

by Sandra Waddock, Pietra Rivoli



One of the reasons it has been so challenging to define corporate responsibility (CR) is that what is considered to be responsible behavior by corporations shifts over time. Not only does the meaning of CR constantly shift, but so do public expectations and the baseline of acceptable corporate practice. New CR behaviors become common practice through two mechanisms. New norms of industry-wide practices evolve in response to shifting stakeholder expectations and demands, in response to changing laws and regulations. Moreover, changes in laws are often facilitated by evolving voluntary CR norms. As either norms of behavior or laws shift over time, the “business case” for certain CR behaviors strengthens, but at the same time the very definition of CR shifts as firms find themselves pressured to adopt additional CR behaviors, whose business benefits may initially be unclear. This time dynamic thus changes what is profitable for companies and reveals that what is and is not responsible corporate practice is both time- and context-dependent rather than universal.

California Management Review

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