Social license and environmental protection: Why businesses go beyond compliance

Author/s (editor/s):

Gunningham, Neil
Thornton, Dorothy

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Publication type:

Journal article

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This article examines the concept of the corporate “social license,” which governs the extent to which a corporation is constrained to meet societal expectations and avoid activities that societies (or influential elements within them) deem unacceptable, whether or not those expectations are embodied in law. It examines the social license empirically, as it relates to one social problem–environmental protection–and as it relates to one particular industry: pulp and paper manufacturing. It shows try the social license is important, the circumstances in which it may encourage companies to go “beyond compliance” with regulation, how its terms are monitored and enforced, and how it interacts with what we term the regulatory and economic licenses. Overall, this research demonstrates that corporate environmental behavior cannot be explained purely in terms of instrumental threats and moral obligations to comply with the law, and that the increasing incidence of “beyond compliance” corporate behavior can be better explained in terms of the interplay between social pressures and economic constraints.

Cite the publication as

Gunningham, Neil, 2004, ‘Social license and environmental protection: Why businesses go beyond compliance’, Law and Social Inquiry, 29, 307-341

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