Corporate power and democracy: A business ethical reflection and research agenda

Business Ethics, the Environment and Responsibility (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Corporations significantly influence the public and political spheres. In light of this corporate power in society, academics have criticized the lack of legitimization (i.e., the legitimacy gap) and highlighted a potential divergence between corporate resource allocation and the needs and preferences of the public (i.e., the social issues gap). To address these problems, democratizing organizations has been proposed as a potential solution. In line with this, the authors argue that an increase in corporate power outside the economic realm should be counterbalanced by more democratic corporate governance (i.e., an internalization of democracy). While important groundwork exists, academic attention to these topics remains limited. The authors provide an overview of the literature linking corporate power and the claim for democratizing organizations, advocate for legitimization, identify research gaps, and develop a research agenda to inspire and guide future research efforts. The paper's findings suggest the importance of conceptual and empirical research on the micro-, meso-, and macro-levels and the cross-level effects, which is needed to advance this incipient research area. Future research must (1) clearly define corporate power and discuss how democratizing organizations can contribute to more legitimate organizational decisions, (2) unveil novel approaches for more democratic corporate governance, and (3) understand the organizational- and individual-level factors necessary for the successful realization of democratic organizations.

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