Siirry sisältöön
Corporate sociopolitical activism requires strategic stakeholder collaboration

Corporate sociopolitical activism (CSA) refers to a growing phenomenon in the corporate field: companies and CEOs taking a stance on controversial sociopolitical issues such as gender politics, minority rights, racial equality, or climate crisis. To implement successful CSA, companies need new processes and forms of strategic stakeholder collaboration.

Published : 12.06.2024

Corporate activism takes an ethical and moral stance on a current and often controversial issue with an intention of influencing social policy and changing societal values (Weber, Joireman, Sprott, & Hydock, 2023). While corporate social responsibility (CSR) has grown mainstream and become more and more strategically focused, corporate social activism, as a more recent phenomenon, tends to be more ‘episodic and short-termed’ in nature (Cho, Xu & Boatwright 2023).

According to recent Master’s Thesis research at Haaga-Helia, the emerging field of corporate sociopolitical activism (CSA) is covered with overlapping concepts that can be seen as having their roots in corporate social responsibility (CSR).

  • Corporate activism/advocacy (CA, an umbrella concept)
  • Corporate sociopolitical/social activism (CSA, focused on concrete statements and actions aimed at social, political, cultural, economic, or environmental change)
  • Corporate social advocacy (CSAd, focused on statements aimed at changing social policy)
  • Brand activism (BA, focused on influencing consumer responses and engagement)
  • CEO activism (CEOA, focused on the CEO’s driving role as an individual)
  • Corporate political advocacy (CPA, focused on the role of politicians)

Strategic planning to manage stakeholder expectations and benefits

Successful CSA initiatives can improve brand image, increase stakeholder trust, and lead to financial gains. In the current politically polarized environment, however, companies pursuing CSA must act strategically and be mindful of multiple stakeholders’ needs and expectations. Companies need to develop new processes and forms of strategic collaboration to plan and manage their social involvement, to keep tabs on stakeholder expectations, and to achieve stakeholder trust and benefits.

It is of utmost importance to know the rapidly growing and changing expectations of stakeholders (such as employees, customers, investors, suppliers) when engaging in CSA, as their potential value misalignment can cause alienation. Failing to appropriately acknowledge this risk may lead to extensive backlash on social media (Olkkonen & Morsing 2022).

What makes things even more complex is that publicly refraining from taking an explicit stance on a divisive issue may also be interpreted by stakeholders as a sociopolitical corporate stance in itself. For all stakeholders, the key to success is the authenticity of the purpose behind any given CSA initiative, avoiding greenwashing, wokewashing, trustwashing, and the like (Lim & Young 2021). Secondly, there must be a convincing fit between the company brand and the sociopolitical issue and form of activism in question (Atanga, Xue & Mattila 2022).

All in all, existing research calls for a better strategic integration of a company’s, or its CEO’s, socio-political positioning within the company’s resources and functions, such as public relations, lived corporate values, risks and issues management, and stakeholder relations (Frölich & Knobloch 2021).

Development ideas for action planning and stakeholder collaboration

The Master Thesis research work suggests that companies should not be afraid of taking socio-political stances, as there is little to no evidence in literature that there are negative financial repercussions from taking a stance. Even in cases of value misalignments with some stakeholders, there are always stakeholders in favour as well.

Companies should incorporate sociopolitical issues in their strategic planning and prepare long-term action plans for envisioning challenges, setting goals, and implementing activities as a concrete follow-up to goals and statements. CSA should be integrated in the processes of corporate communications, human resources and corporate social responsibility. To offset risks, CSA-related challenges could be considered as part of the company’s overall risk and issues management strategies and procedures.

One practical development suggestion for companies is to involve employees in planning and implementing CSA initiatives. This can be achieved, for example, by creating dialogical forums where the CEO and employees can openly share views and opinions, negotiate complex issues, and discuss values and potential doubts and fears. If such internal discussion forums have clear goals and their impact on decision-making is transparent, they can support the entire work community to develop successful CSA initiatives around pressing or sensitive socio-political issues.

This article builds on Claudia Miramo’s Master’s Thesis Corporate sociopolitical activism: Exploring the need for strategic collaboration between CEOs and employees. Haaga-Helia 2024.


Atanga, B.A., Xue, X. & Mattila A. S. 2022. The impact of corporate sociopolitical activism (CSA) on brand attitude. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 107,103290.

Cho, M., Xu, S. & Boatwright, B. 2023. A personal-communicative evaluation approach to CEO advocacy & employee relations. Public Relations Review, 49(2), 102295.

Fröhlich, R. & Knobloch, A. S. 2021. “Are they allowed to do that?” Content and typology of corporate socio-political positioning on TWITTER. A study of DAX-30 companies in Germany. Public Relations Review, 47(5), 102113.

Lim, J. S. & Young, C. 2021. Effects of issue ownership, perceived fit, and authenticity in corporate social advocacy on corporate reputation. Public Relations Review, 47(4), 102071.

Olkkonen, L. & Morsing, M. 2022. A processual model of CEO activism: Activities, frames, and phases. Business & Society, 62, 3, 646–694.

Weber, T. J., Joireman, J., Sprott, D. E. & Hydock, C. 2023. Differential response to corporate political advocacy and corporate social responsibility: Implications for political polarization and radicalization. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 42(1), 74–93.

Picture: Shutterstock