Toward a View of Citizenship and Lobbying: Corporate Engagement in the Political ProcessBusiness & Society


S. Anastasiadis
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Business & Society 2014, Vol. 53(2) 260 –299 © The Author(s) 2013

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DOI: 10.1177/0007650313483495


Toward a View of

Citizenship and Lobbying:

Corporate Engagement in the Political Process

Stephanos Anastasiadis1


The way a company engages with the political process is directly relevant to its ”character,” yet lobbying and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are often seen as separate. Taking a narrative approach, the author examines the automotive industry’s processes around lobbying, in the light of legislation to restrict emissions of CO2 from cars in the European Union. The author uses the data generated through interviews to generate a narrative model of political engagement, and to start to apply Basu and Palazzo’s process model of CSR. This article shows competing narratives within the industry, which range from broadly cooperative toward regulatory activity, to broadly instrumental. The author argues that lobbying needs to be included in the scope of corporate citizenship theorizing and discusses changes to corporate character.

Keywords lobbying, citizenship, narrative, legitimacy

Firms have attracted opprobrium for their lobbying actions, which many consider inimical to socially responsible behavior. At the same time, however, 1University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK

Corresponding Author:

Stephanos Anastasiadis, School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham,

Surrey TW20 0EX, UK.

Email: 483495 BAS53210.1177/0007650313483495Business & SocietyAnastasiadis research-article2013 at UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN LIBRARY on March 12, 2015bas.sagepub.comDownloaded from

Anastasiadis 261 firms have been keen to promote their “responsibility” credentials, and indeed they frequently attract good corporate social responsibility (CSR) ratings. This article presents research that shows the divide is not only the result of a disconnect between companies’ thinking on lobbying and CSR, but also that the divide is symptomatic of a wider issue, rooted in the way they make sense of politics. The author argues that this divide is dangerous for those firms’ ongoing legitimacy. The author also discusses the link between corporate citizenship (CC) and lobbying, which are both alternative forms of political activity, yet which are often not considered to be linked. Taking a narrative approach helps to make this link clearer. Finally, the author starts to use Basu and Palazzo’s (2008) process model of CSR.

The research presented here was conducted in the context of European

Union (EU) policy making on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new cars. Using data drawn from semistructured interviews with respondents from inside and outside the auto industry, the author develops a nuanced view of corporate lobbying by focusing on company-internal processes. The author identifies key narratives that explain and influence corporate-internal processes on lobbying. This approach is unusual: decision-making processes within firms have “by and large been overlooked” (Rehbein & Schuler, 1999, p. 145) in the literature.

The article proceeds as follows. It starts with a brief overview of the context of the research. The article then discusses previous scholarship, paying particular attention to political pluralism and corporate citizenship, before outlining the sensemaking approach. This literature review leads to the research questions, which are about firms’ narratives on lobbying, and the implications of these narratives. The author then sets out the research method and presents the findings. The main focus of that section is concerned with carmakers’ narratives around the political process. The article ends with a theoretical discussion and suggestions for further research.

Context of the Research

The research presented here was conducted between late 2005 and mid-2008, in the context of European Union policy making on CO2 emissions from cars.

This section starts with a description of the evolution of EU policy on CO2 from cars, moves to the broader context within the auto industry, and ends with an outline of the EU’s policy-making process.

The EU has been discussing CO2 emissions from cars for at least two decades (European Commission, 1991, pp. 5-6). It focused on the issue in the 1990s, suggesting that carmakers should contribute to CO2 reductions through a voluntary commitment (European Commission, 1995, pp. 13-14). In 1998, at UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN LIBRARY on March 12, 2015bas.sagepub.comDownloaded from 262 Business & Society 53(2)

European manufacturers signed a voluntary agreement with the European

Commission, to reduce average emissions from new cars by 2008.

Manufacturers’ progress toward this target was widely considered insufficient (European Commission, 2006; T&E, 2005, 2006, 2007): discussions on legislation began in earnest in late 2005. A legislative proposal in December 2007 provided specific targets, with significant fines for noncompliance (European Commission, 2007, p. 21).

CO2 emissions are directly related to fossil fuel use, so the issue of climate change has created a significant challenge for carmakers. They face increasingly strict standards globally on fuel economy (Lawson, Pearson,

Tyrrell, 2007, pp. 17-18), but EU policy is particularly significant. In “Charlemagne: Brussels Rules OK”, the Economist (2007, p.42) claims that Europe is becoming the “world’s chief regulator” due to its wider influence on technical standards. The fastest growing markets, notably India and

China, frequently adopt EU standards (Koch & Metzger, 2006). China was the world’s third-largest car market by 2007 and is expected to be the largest by 2015 (Datamonitor, 2007b, p. 17). Moreover, net profit margins in

China are high, averaging more than 9% in 2004 (Economist, 2004), compared with global average margins, of below 5% by 2004 (Carson, 2004).