Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 136, Issue 4, pp 675–685 | Cite as

The Social License to Operate

  • Geert Demuijnck
  • Björn Fasterling


This article proposes a way to zoom in on the concept of the social license to operate (SLO) from the broader normative perspective of contractarianism. An SLO can be defined as a contractarian basis for the legitimacy of a company’s specific activity or project. “SLO”, as a fashionable expression, has its origins in business practice. From a normative viewpoint, the concept is closely related to social contract theory, and, as such, it has a political dimension. After outlining the contractarian normative background to the SLO, we will show how academic concepts such as legitimacy and stakeholder management have a tendency to provide the intellectual underpinning for the business case for securing an SLO. While business case perspectives on the SLO may well be in line with the use of the term in business practice, we will highlight certain difficulties and ambiguities related to the instrumental use of the expression. In the final section, we briefly introduce the articles of this Special Issue to the reader and explain how they relate to the topic.


Social license to operate Social contract theory Legitimacy Pragmatic legitimacy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.EDHEC Business SchoolLilleFrance
  2. 2.LegalEDHEC Research CenterEDHEC Business SchoolLilleFrance

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