Purpose: This qualitative paper is about social reporting in response to an incident that involved the loss of human life. It examines Loblaw’s disclosures following the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed over 1,100 Bangladeshi workers. Design/methodology/approach: This article draws on Suchman’s (1995) comprehensive legitimacy typology to interpret Loblaw’s disclosures about the collapse in both mass media coverage of the tragedy and the company’s quarterly, annual and corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. Findings: Loblaw worked on many fronts to secure stakeholders’ support in the aftermath of the fatal incident. Through their social disclosures, Loblaw simultaneously managed exchange, dispositional, consequential, procedural, structural, personal and cognitive legitimacy, striving to demonstrate that, notwithstanding the incident, the company was still conforming to its social contract. Practical implications: This research operationalizes all aspects of Suchman’s legitimacy typology in the context of social reporting. In particular, the paper further develops the concept of cognitive legitimacy. This should be of benefit to other CSR researchers. Social implications: The loss of human life during business operations is one of the most terrible events an organization can face. Corporate activities leading to loss of human life are obviously far from being socially acceptable. Stakeholders are likely to disapprove such activities and reconsider their support, which can threaten the survival of the organization. It is thus of utmost importance to understand the strategies used by corporate managers in their attempt to secure ongoing stakeholder support. Originality/value: This paper innovates by focusing specifically on social disclosures about a negative event. In so doing, it also contributes to a small, but important, literature within CSR research that examines incidents resulting in the loss of human life. The paper adapts and applies Suchman’s legitimacy framework to interpret social reporting in response to a specific instance of loss of life, the Rana Plaza building collapse. Finally, this paper mobilizes the notion of cognitive dissonance to further develop Suchman’s notion of cognitive legitimacy.

, , , ,
Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal
Sprott School of Business

Bujaki, M, & Durocher, S. (Sylvain). (2019). Managing legitimacy following loss of human life: Loblaw and Rana Plaza. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal. doi:10.1108/SAMPJ-09-2018-0255