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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Business as usual? The mobilization of the anti -sweatshop movement and the social construction of corporate identity
by DeWinter-Schmitt, Rebecca M., Ph.D., American University, 2007, 636; 3305948
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the relational mechanisms through which social movement mobilization impacts the identity of targets of contention. Nike and Gap were selected as case studies to explain how, over an approximately fifteen year encounter with the anti-sweatshop movement, "business as usual" came to include conveying their socially responsible identities. They went from denying responsibility for conditions in their contracted factories to altering their organizational policies and structures, daily business practices, and public communications in order to demonstrate their commitment to labor standards and sustainable development in the globalized apparel industry.

Using a narrative, relational concept of identity, which theorizes identity as residing in relations, boundaries, and stories, I elucidate Nike and Gap's social construction during contentious interactions. The movement, by successfully framing the sweatshop as a social problem via brand damage campaigns, was able to "rhetorically coerce" the companies into responding to accusations of the use of sweatshop labor. Nike and Gap allowed themselves to be "rhetorically entrapped" into aligning their words and deeds when they began to demonstrate progressive stages in the development of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) best practices. However, differentiating between "solidarity" and "market-based" strategic models of mobilization, I argue that Nike and Gap directed resistance towards their preferred remedial pathway, voluntary forms of corporate self-regulation.

Three identity shift mechanisms–brokerage, category formation, and certification–discussed in the relational social movement literature capture how Nike and Gap's developing CSR commitment was given meaning and content, resulting in their social construction in a "different" manner than in the early 1990s. By the mid-2000s, the companies had brokered ties to the anti-sweatshop movement and its agenda; their boundaries had shifted vis-à-vis other collective actors, in particular contractors and the state, resulting in new responsibilities for workers and producing communities; and claims made about their CSR identities were certified by key stakeholders, including elements of the movement, media, and government. In the end, Nike and Gap were able to remove themselves as sustained targets of anti-sweatshop mobilization.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Persaud, Randolph
School: American University
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 69/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Labor economics, International law, Labor relations, International Affairs
Keywords: Anti-sweatshop movement, Corporate social responsibility, Gap, Nike, Social constructivism, Sweatshop
Publication Number: 3305948
ISBN: 978-0-549-53720-5
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