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Squeezing Psychological Freedom in Corporate–Community Engagement

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This article analyses the ethics of how community engagement and dialogue as applied by a mining corporation in Chile led to erosion of the community’s psychological freedom despite being aligned with best practice. This article details how a mining company squeezed the psychological freedom of the community in order to obtain an agreement between the period of 2000 and 2016. The findings focus particularly on a 9-month period between 2015 and 2016 when the company undertook intense community engagement. The article identifies six corporate action phases undertaken which curtailed the community’s psychological freedom as paying off local leaders; challenging via courts of law; co-opting community lawyers; prohibiting a key debate during dialogue; and remaining silent after failing to honour its own self-imposed rule. The findings label the company’s community engagement as contradictory; while it conducted transitional and transformational engagement (in line with best practice) in formal spaces, it also engaged in unethical strategies in the informal spaces of community engagement. The result was overall community consent and an even more fragmented community. This article finds that when it limits the psychological freedom of participants, who are already divided as a group, corporate–community engagement (CCE) can be viewed as ethically problematic. Based on analysis of the literature and an empirical case analysis, this article contributes a test for assessing the ethics of CCE.

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This study was partly funded by Fondecyt - Chilean National fund for scientific and technological development. Project No. 3160824 as well as in part by H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions; Project: 707485.

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Correspondence to Rajiv Maher.



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Maher, R. Squeezing Psychological Freedom in Corporate–Community Engagement. J Bus Ethics 160, 1047–1066 (2019).

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