Citizenship, inc.: Do we really want businesses to be good corporate citizens?

Business Ethics Quarterly 18 (1):1-26 (2008)


Are there any advantages to thinking and speaking about ethical business in the language of citizenship? We will address this question in part by looking at the possible relevance of a vast literature on individual citizenship that has been produced by political philosophers over the last fifteen years. Some of the central elements of citizenship do not seem to apply straightforwardly to corporations. E.g., “citizenship” typically implies membership in a state and an identity akinto national identity; but this connotation of citizenship is obviously problematic for multinational corporations. However, the language of citizenship does help to focus our attention on various legal and political virtues (or vices) for corporations—topics that have been largely neglected by discussions under other rubrics, such as CSR or sustainability. We finish with an evaluation of the potential benefits and costs of conceptualizing and talking about ethical business practices in thelanguage of citizenship.“Citizen” and “Citizenship” are powerful words. They speak of respect, of rights, of dignity. . . . We find no perjorative uses. It is a weighty, monumental, humanist word.—Fraser and Gordon 1994: 90[The rhetorical appeal to citizenship often] seems to have no purpose other than to add normative weight to a policy, institution or practice that could just asaptly be described without reference to citizenship.—Weinstock 2002: 244

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Wayne Norman
Duke University

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