Secondary stakeholders as agents of influence: Three essays on political risk, reputation, and multinational performance

David Adam Wernick, Florida International University


Organizational researchers have recently taken an interest in the ways in which social movements, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other secondary stakeholders attempt to influence corporate behavior. Scholars, however, have yet to carefully probe the link between secondary stakeholder legal action and target firm stock market performance. This is puzzling given the sharp rise in NGO-initiated civil lawsuits against corporations in recent years for alleged overseas human rights abuses and environmental misconduct. Furthermore, few studies have considered how such lawsuits impact a target firm’s intangible assets, namely its image and reputation. Structured in the form of three essays, this dissertation examined the antecedents and consequences of secondary stakeholder legal activism in both conceptual and empirical settings. Essay One argued that conventional approaches to understanding political risk fail to account for the reputational risks to multinational enterprises (MNEs) posed by transnational networks of human rights NGOs employing litigation-based strategies. It offered a new framework for understanding this emerging challenge to multinational corporate activity. Essay Two empirically tested the relationship between the filing of human rights-related civil lawsuits and corporate stock market performance using an event study methodology and regression analysis. The statistical analysis performed showed that target firms experience a significant decline in share price upon filing and that both industry and nature of the lawsuit are significantly and negatively related to shareholder wealth. Essay Three drew upon social movement and social identity theories to develop and test a set of hypotheses on how secondary stakeholder groups select their targets for human rights-related civil lawsuits. The results of a logistic regression model offered support for the proposition that MNE targets are chosen based on both interest and identity factors. The results of these essays suggest that legal action initiated by secondary stakeholder groups is a new and salient threat to multinational business and that firms doing business in countries with weak political institutions should factor this into corporate planning and take steps to mitigate their exposure to such risks.

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Recommended Citation

Wernick, David Adam, "Secondary stakeholders as agents of influence: Three essays on political risk, reputation, and multinational performance" (2011). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3502128.