Norwegian salmon farming and the chase for social legitimacy
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Norway is a world-leading producer of farmed Atlantic salmon, but despite economic success the industry is controversial, and public opinion and local communities are increasingly sceptical or even hostile. The industry claims to provide a sustainable answer to challenges of food security, and aims for an extensive growth in the years to come, but arguably lacks the social legitimacy needed to achieve this goal. Threats to the social legitimacy of a company or an industry are today typically addressed by help of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. In this paper, we describe how structural and technological changes affect companies’ and their stakeholders’ perception of corporate social responsibility. We apply Matten and Moon’s (2008) distinction between implicit and explicit CSR; while implicit CSR mainly consists in adapting to regulatory system and institutional demands, explicit CSR typically consists in company-specific initiatives expressively communicated to key stakeholders. In the case of the Norwegian aquaculture industry, the rise of explicit CSR can be seen as a response to economic globalization and the expansion of markets across borders and institutional frameworks. But social legitimacy is not simply a matter of how a company is perceived globally, but importantly also a matter of how it is valued by local communities. Many fish farms started as small, locally owned operations and have developed into multinational corporations. We argue that while the transition from implicit to explicit CSR aims at enhancing social legitimacy, it could paradoxically weaken the ties between companies and local communities if focus is only on sustainability in a global perspective.