Firm Engagement and Social Issue Salience, Consensus, and Contestation

Business and Society 56 (8):1136-1168 (2017)
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Facing an increasing number and variety of issues with social salience, firms must determine how to engage with issues that likely have a significant impact on them. Integrating issues management and salience theories, the authors find that firms engage with socially contested issues—where there is a high degree of societal disagreement—in a different manner from issues that have social consensus, or high agreement. Examining social issue resolutions filed by shareholders from 1997 to 2009, the study finds that socially contested issues, as well as those issues with social consensus, are both likely to result in engagement by the firm. For social issues with consensus, a firm is more likely to opt for a low level of shareholder engagement whereas resolutions regarding contested issues lead to engaging shareholders at a higher level. These findings shed new light on the IM and issue salience literature streams that have suggested firms will react differently to these types of issues, even while they remain largely untested. Finally, firms become less engaged with perennial issues over time. rather than more, providing new guidance to researchers, shareholder activists, and firms alike. To the authors’ knowledge, such fined-grained insight into expected levels of firm engagement with social issue salience has not been put forth previously.



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