Activists target only large firms with good reputation?

New York : Large companies with prominent brand images and good corporate reputations are more vulnerable to be “named and shamed” by activists than their less prominent counterparts, says a study.

“Companies that had all of these characteristics were nearly guaranteed to be a target of activism,” said Tim Bartley, lead author of the study and associate professor of sociology at the Ohio State University in the US.

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Nearly all of the large firms in the apparel industry of the 1990s could be credibly charged with benefiting from sweatshops, but only a small subset were named and shamed by activists.

The results suggest that activists chose companies whose visibility in the public and overall good reputation might make them more “shameable” than other firms, Bartley noted.

“Activists have enthusiastically adopted the strategy of trying to turn corporate strengths into vulnerabilities,” he added.

For the study, researchers focused on 151 large US-based lead firms in the apparel, textile and footwear industries.

They looked for evidence of anti-sweatshop activism from 1993 to 2000 that was reported in major trade journals.

One surprise was that globalisation did not seem to play a role in which firms were targeted, Bartley said.

Companies that relied heavily on foreign factories were not necessarily more likely to attract activism than firms with less of a global reach.

“Anti-sweatshop activism wasn’t as much a backlash against globalization as it has been portrayed,” he said.

The findings appeared online in the journal American Sociological Review.