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Corporate responses to stakeholder activism: partnerships and surveillance

Julie Uldam (Department of Communication, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark, and Department of Intercultural Communication and Management, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)
Hans Krause Hansen (Department of Intercultural Communication and Management, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




Corporations are increasingly expected to act responsibly. The purpose of this paper is to examine two types of corporate responses to these expectations: overt and covert responses. Specifically, it examines oil companies’ involvement in multi-stakeholder initiatives and sponsorships (overt responses) and their monitoring of critics, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activist organisations (covert responses).


Theoretically, the paper draws on theories of visibility and post-political regulation. Empirically, it focuses on case studies of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Shell and BP, drawing on qualitative methods.


The paper demonstrates that overt responses create an impression of consensus between antagonistic interests and that covert responses support this impression by containing deep-seated conflicts.

Research limitations/implications

Corporate responses have implications for the role of the corporation as a (post-)political actor. By containing antagonism and creating an impression of consensus, the interplay between overt and covert responses open up further possibilities for the proliferation of soft governance and self-regulation through participation in voluntary transparency and corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. Data on covert practices of corporations are difficult to access. This impedes possibilities for fully assessing their extent. The findings of this paper support trends emerging from recent research on covert corporate intelligence practices, but more research is needed to provide a systematic overview.


The paper contributes to the understudied area of covert corporate activity in research on the political role of multinational corporations.



Uldam, J. and Hansen, H.K. (2017), "Corporate responses to stakeholder activism: partnerships and surveillance", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 151-165.



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