Legitimacy and Cosmopolitanism: Online Public Debates on (Corporate) Responsibility

Anne Vestergaard, Julie Uldam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Social media platforms have been vested with hope for their potential to enable ‘ordinary citizens’ to make their judgments public and contribute to pluralized discussions about organizations and their perceived legitimacy (Etter et al. in Bus Soc 57(1):60–97, 2018). This raises questions about how ordinary citizens make judgements and voice them in online spaces. This paper addresses these questions by examining how Western citizens ascribe responsibility and action in relation to corporate misconduct. Empirically, it focuses on modern slavery and analyses online debates in Denmark on child slavery in the cocoa industry. Conceptually, it introduces the notion of cosmopolitanism as a general disposition of care and responsibility towards distant others, conceived as a prerequisite for the critical evaluation of corporate (ir)responsibility in the Global South. The analysis of online debates shows that citizens debate child slavery in terms of individual consumer responsibility rather than corporate responsibility. Corporations are not considered potential agents of change. As a consequence, online citizen debates did not reflect a legitimacy crisis for the cocoa industry, as debates over responsibility were overwhelmingly concerned with the agency of the Western individual, the individual agency of the speakers themselves. Participants in debates understood their agency strictly as consumer agency.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)227–240
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: 05 January 2021.


  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Legitimacy
  • Social media

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