Increased scrutiny of corporate legitimacy has sparked an interest in “historic corporate social responsibility”, or the mechanism through which firms take responsibility for past misdeeds. Extant theory on historic CSR implicitly treats corporate engagement with historical criticism as intentional and dichotomous, with firms choosing either a limited or a high engagement strategy. However, this conceptualization is puzzling because a firm’s engagement with historic claims involves organizational practices that managers don’t necessarily control; hence, it might materialize differently than anticipated. Furthermore, multiple motivations could jointly affect managers’ approach to organizational history, especially when dealing with conflicting stakeholder demands, rendering it difficult to historicize consistently. Examining the relationship between the legitimacy of critical historic claims, corporate engagement with these claims and corporate legitimacy, the present paper performs a historical case study of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s (HBC) long term use of history in stakeholder relations. The data suggest that under conflicting internal and external pressures, the HBC’s engagement with historical criticism became “sedimented” over time, involving both open and stakeholder-inclusive practices of “history-as-sensemaking” and instrumental “history-as-rhetoric”. Enriching understanding of corporate-stakeholder interaction about the past, this finding may stimulate its generation of social value and corporate legitimacy.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Acosta, P., & Pérezts, M. (2019). Unearthing sedimentation dynamics in political CSR: The case of Colombia. Journal of Business Ethics, 155(2), 425–444.
Anderson, R. B. (1997). Corporate/indigenous partnerships in economic development: The first nations in Canada. World Development, 25(9), 1483–1503.
Anteby, M., & Molnár, V. (2012). Collective memory meets organizational identity: Remembering to forget in a firm’s rhetorical history. Academy of Management Journal, 55(3), 515–540.
Barker, A. J. (2015). ‘A direct act of resurgence, a direct act of sovereignty’: Reflections on idle no more, Indigenous activism, and Canadian settler colonialism. Globalizations, 12(1), 43–65.
Belisle, D. (2011). Retail nation: Department stores and the making of modern Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Belmore, R. (2015). With reference to death. Retrieved March 31, 2019, from http://withreferencetodeath.philippocock.net/blog/belmore-rebecca-the-blanket-2010/.
Biernacki, P., & Waldorf, D. (1981). Snowball sampling: Problems and techniques of chain referral sampling. Sociological Methods and Research, 10(2), 141–163.
Booth, C., Clark, P., Delahaye, A., Procter, S., & Rowlinson, M. (2007). Accounting for the dark side of corporate history: Organizational culture perspectives and the Bertelsmann case. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 18(6), 625–644.
Bottomley H. (1919). Correspondence to F. C. Ingrams, 24 November. Governor and Committee General inward correspondence. HBCA A.10/519.
Bryant, D., & Clark, P. (2006). Historical empathy and ‘Canada: A people’s history’. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l’éducation, 29, 1039–1063.
Burghausen, M., & Balmer, J. M. T. (2014). Repertoires of the corporate past: Explanation and framework. Introducing an integrated and dynamic perspective. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 19(4), 384–402.
Canadian Press. (2010). HBC to carry real cowichan sweaters in Time for Olympics. Marketing Magazine, 26 January.
Carleton Cowan Public Relations. (1971). Public Relations. Concept, Function and Structure. Recommendations for Hudson’s Bay Company. 22 January 1971. Canadian head office correspondence. 600.6.1 P.R. GENERAL. HBCA H2-224-5-3.
Carlos, A. M., & Lewis, F. D. (2011). Commerce by a frozen sea: Native Americans and the European fur trade. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
CBC News. (2009). Cowichan Tribes reach Olympic Sweater Deal. 28 October.
Celebration 325. (1995a). Newsletter 1.
Celebration 325. (1995b). Newsletter 7.
Conrad, M., Ercikan, K., Friesen, G., Létourneau, J., Muise, D., Northrup, D., et al. (2013). Canadians and their pasts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Constantineau, B. (2009). HBC defends Olympic Sweater. Vancouver Sun, 9 October.
Cooper, D. J., Hinings, B., Greenwood, R., & Brown, J. L. (1996). Sedimentation and transformation in organizational change: The case of Canadian law firms. Organization Studies, 17(4), 623–647.
Cornelissen, J. (2017). Editor’s comments: Developing propositions, a process model, or a typology? Addressing the challenges of writing theory without a boilerplate. Academy of Management Review, 42(1), 1–9.
Crane, A., Palazzo, G., Spence, L. J., & Matten, D. (2014). Contesting the value of “creating shared value”. California Management Review, 56(2), 130–153.
Daschuk, J. W. (2013). Clearing the plains: Disease, politics of starvation, and the loss of Aboriginal life. Regina: University of Regina Press.
De Bakker, F. G., Groenewegen, P., & Den Hond, F. (2005). A bibliometric analysis of 30 years of research and theory on corporate social responsibility and corporate social performance. Business and Society, 44(3), 283–317.
Decker, S. (2013). The silence of the archives: Business history, post-colonialism and archival ethnography. Management & Organizational History, 8(2), 155–173.
Djelic, M. L., & Etchanchu, H. (2017). Contextualizing corporate political responsibilities: Neoliberal CSR in historical perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 142(4), 641–661.
Financial Times. (1921). Hudson’s Bay Company. 6 August.
Financial Times. (1952). Hudson’s Bay Company. 3 June.
Foster, W. M., Suddaby, R., Minkus, A., & Wiebe, E. (2011). History as social memory assets: The example of Tim Hortons. Management & Organizational History, 6(1), 101–120.
Fu, L., Boehe, D., Orlitzky, M., & Swanson, D. L. (2018). Managing stakeholder pressures: Toward a typology of corporate social performance profiles. Long Range Planning. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lrp.2018.08.002.
Gaddis, J. L. (2002). The landscape of history: How historians map the past. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Geller, P. (2011). Northern exposures: Photographing and filming the Canadian North, 1920–1945. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Godfrey, P. C. (2005). The relationship between corporate philanthropy and shareholder wealth: A risk management perspective. Academy of Management Review, 30(4), 777–798.
Governor and Committee. (1920a). Minutes 13 April. HCBA A.1/164.
Governor and Committee. (1920b). Minutes 6 January. HCBA A.1/164.
Graburn, N. H. (2004). Authentic Inuit art: Creation and exclusion in the Canadian north. Journal of Material Culture, 9(2), 141–159.
Gregor, A. A. (2001). Going public. A history of public programming at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. Master’s thesis, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Guldi, J., & Armitage, D. (2014). The history manifesto. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hanlon, G., & Fleming, P. (2009). Updating the critical perspective on corporate social responsibility. Sociology Compass, 3(6), 1–12.
Harvey, D. (2007). A brief history of neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hatch, M. J., & Schultz, M. (2017). Toward a theory of using history authentically. Administrative Science Quarterly, 62(4), 657–697.
HBC Heritage. (2019). Retrieved February 28, from http://www.hbcheritage.ca/people/women/thanadelthur.
HBC Heritage. (2019). Retrieved March 28, from http://www.hbcheritage.ca/things/fashion-pop/hudsons-bay-point-blanket-coat.
Heikkurinen, P., & Mäkinen, J. (2018). Synthesising corporate responsibility on organisational and societal levels of analysis: An integrative perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 149(3), 589–607.
Howard-Grenville, J., Metzger, M. L., & Meyer, A. D. (2013). Rekindling the old flame: Processes of identity resurrection. Academy of Management Journal, 56(1), 113–136.
Huband A. R. & Novek D. (1974). Canadian Head Office Correspondence, 22 February 1974. HCBA 604.1.1 FILMS General 1937-79, H2-224-6-5.
Janssen, C. I. (2013). Corporate historical responsibility (CHR): Addressing a corporate past of forced labor at Volkswagen. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41(1), 64–83.
Johnson, C. D. (2002). Daily life in colonial New England. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Joutsenvirta, M., & Vaara, E. (2015). Legitimacy struggles and political corporate social responsibility in international settings: A comparative discursive analysis of a contested investment in Latin America. Organization Studies, 36(6), 741–777.
Kim, S. (2019). The process model of corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication: CSR communication and its relationship with consumers’ CSR knowledge, trust, and corporate reputation perception. Journal of Business Ethics, 154(4), 1143–1159.
Kipping, M., Wadhwani, R. D., & Bucheli, M. (2014). Analyzing and interpreting historical sources: A basic methodology. In M. Bucheli & R. D. Wadhwani (Eds.), Organizations in time: History, theory, methods (pp. 305–329). New York: Oxford University Press.
Kobrin, S. J. (2009). Private political authority and public responsibility: Transnational politics, transnational firms, and human rights. Business Ethics Quarterly, 19(3), 349–374.
Koeppel, D. (2007). Banana: The fate of the fruit that changed the world. New York: Penguin Press.
Lackenbauer, P. W. (2008). Carrying the burden of peace: The Mohawks, the Canadian Forces, and the Oka crisis. Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, 10(2), 1–71.
Létourneau, J. (2004). History for the future: Rewriting memory and identity in Quebec. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
MacKintosh, D. (1970) Three hundred years of the Hudson’s Bay. HBCA Search File List. Anniversary, 300th General.
Maclean, M., Harvey, C., & Clegg, S. R. (2016). Conceptualizing historical organization studies. Academy of Management Review, 41(4), 609–632.
Madsen, S. (2008). The evolution of recordkeeping at the Hudson’s Bay Company. Archivaria, 66, 25–56.
Maitlis, S., & Christianson, M. (2014a). Sensemaking in organizations: Taking stock and moving forward. The Academy of Management Annals, 8(1), 57–125.
Maitlis, S., & Christianson, M. (2014b). Sensemaking in organizations: Taking stock and moving forward. Academy of Management Annals, 8(1), 57–125.
Marchi, R. (2012). With Facebook, blogs, and fake news, teens reject journalistic “objectivity”. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 36(3), 246–262.
Marketing Magazine. (1995). The Bay gives itself a marketing bash. vol. 14, 1. 10 April.
Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2008). “Implicit” and “explicit” CSR: A conceptual framework for a comparative understanding of corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 33(2), 404–424.
McDonald, D. (2002). Lord Strathcona: A biography of Donald Alexander Smith. Toronto: Dundurn.
Mena, S., & Palazzo, G. (2012). Input and output legitimacy of multi-stakeholder initiatives. Business Ethics Quarterly, 22(3), 527–556.
Mena, S., Rintamäki, J., Fleming, P., & Spicer, A. (2016). On the forgetting of corporate irresponsibility. Academy of Management Review, 41(4), 720–738.
Menkis, R., & Troper, H. M. (2015). More than just games: Canada and the 1936 Olympics. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Metzler, M. S. (2001). Responding to the legitimacy problems of big tobacco: An analysis of the “people of Philip Morris” image advertising campaign. Communication Quarterly, 49(4), 366–381.
Miller, J. R. (2000). Skyscrapers hide the heavens: A history of Indian-white relations in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Monod, D. (1986). Bay Days: The managerial revolutions and the Hudson’s Bay Company department stores, 1912–1939. Historical Papers/Communications Historiques, 21(1), 173–196.
National Film Board. (2018). Webpage dedicated to the documentary The Other Side of the Ledger. Retrieved September 26, from https://www.nfb.ca/film/other_side_of_the_ledger/.
Néron, P. Y. (2010). Business and the polis: What does it mean to see corporations as political actors? Journal of Business Ethics, 94(3), 333–352.
Newman, P. C. (1985). Company of adventurers. Viking: Markham.
Newman, K. (1991). Hudson’s Bay Company ends its fur trade. The National, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 30 January 30 1991. Retrieved February 28, 2019, from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/1991-hudsons-bay-company-ends-its-fur-trade.
Newman, P. C. (2008). The adventurers are back. Literary Review of Canada, 16(3), 5–6.
O’Riordan, L., & Fairbrass, J. (2008). Corporate social responsibility (CSR): Models and theories in stakeholder dialogue. Journal of Business Ethics, 83(4), 745–758.
Opp, J. (2015). Branding “the Bay/la Baie”: Corporate identity, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the burden of history in the 1960s. Canadian Historical Review, 96(2), 223–256.
Perry, K. M., & Kang, E. H. H. (2012). When symbols clash: Legitimacy, legality and the 2010 Winter Olympics. Mass Communication and Society, 15(4), 578–597.
Preston, J. (2017). Racial extractivism and white settler colonialism: An examination of the Canadian Tar Sands mega-projects. Cultural Studies, 31(2–3), 353–375.
Rao, S., & Wasserman, H. (2007). Global media ethics revisited: A postcolonial critique. Global Media and Communication, 3(1), 29–50.
Ray, A. J., & Freeman, D. B. (1978). “Give us good measure”: An economic analysis of relations between the Indians and the Hudson’s Bay Company before 1763. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Raynard, M., Lounsbury, M., & Greenwood, R. (2013). Legacies of logics: Sources of community variation in CSR implementation in China. In M. Lounsbury, et al. (Eds.), Institutional Logics in Action, Part A (pp. 243–276). Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing.
Ricoeur, P. (2004). Memory, history, forgetting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ross, A., & Morton, A. (1985). The Hudson’s Bay Company and its archives. Business Archives, 51, 17–39.
Rouleau, L. (2005). Micropractices of strategic sensemaking and sensegiving: How middle managers interpret and sell change every day. Journal of Management Studies, 42(7), 1413–1441.
Rowlinson, M., & Hassard, J. (1993). The invention of corporate culture: A history of the histories of Cadbury. Human Relations, 46(3), 299–326.
Ryerson, S. B. (1963). The founding of Canada: Beginnings to 1815. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Scherer, A. G., & Palazzo, G. (2007). Toward a political conception of corporate responsibility: Business and society seen from a Habermasian perspective. Academy of Management Review, 32(4), 1096–1120.
Scherer, A. G., Palazzo, G., & Seidl, D. (2013). Managing legitimacy in complex and heterogeneous environments: Sustainable development in a globalized world. Journal of Management Studies, 50(2), 259–284.
Schrempf-Stirling, J., Palazzo, G., & Phillips, R. (2016). Historic corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 41(4), 700–719.
Schultz, M., & Hernes, T. (2013). A temporal perspective on organizational identity. Organization Science, 24(1), 1–21.
Simmons, D. (2007). Keepers of the record: the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Smith, A., & Simeone, D. (2017). Learning to use the past: the development of a rhetorical history strategy by the London headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Management and Organizational History, 12(4), 334–356.
Spiller, R. (2000). Ethical business and investment: A model for business and society. Journal of Business Ethics, 27(1–2), 149–160.
Stewart, M. (2007). The Indian film crews of challenge for change: Representation and the state. Canadian Journal of Film Studies, 16(2), 49–81.
Stoler, A. L. (2009). Along the archival grain: Epistemic anxieties and colonial common sense. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Stutz, C. (2018). History in corporate social responsibility: Reviewing and setting an agenda. Business History. https://doi.org/10.1080/00076791.2018.1543661.
Suchman, M. C. (1995). Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 571–610.
Suddaby, R., & Foster, W. M. (2017). History and organizational change. Journal of Management, 43(1), 19–38.
Suddaby, R., Foster, W. M., & Trank, C. Q. (2010). Rhetorical history as a source of competitive advantage. Advances in Strategic Management, 27, 147–173.
Taylor, L. K. (2018). Pedagogies of remembrance and “doing critical heritage” in the teaching of history: Counter-memorializing Canada 150 with future teachers. Journal of Canadian Studies, 52(1), 217–248.
The Bay News. (1970). The Birthday Party. HBCA Search File List. Anniversary, 300th, General.
The Beaver. (1924). The Birthplace of a Great State. IV(5), 3.
The New York Times. (1992). The Lord of Hudson’s Bay. 10 July.
Thiessen, J. (2019). The narrative turn, corporate storytelling, and oral history: Canada’s Petroleum Oral History Project and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action No. 92. Enterprise & Society, 20(1), 60–73.
Tichenor, H. (2002). The blanket: An illustrated history of the Hudson’s Bay point blanket. Toronto: Quantum Books.
Trigger, B. (1986). Natives and newcomers: Canada’s “Heroic Age” reconsidered. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (2015). The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Volume I: Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 1. Origins to 1939. Montréal: McGill Queen’s University Press.
Urde, M., Greyser, S. A., & Balmer, J. M. T. (2007). Corporate brands with a heritage. Journal of Brand Management, 15(1), 4–19.
Vancouver World. (1920). Governor and Committee General inward correspondence; press clippings from Holford Bottomley dated 18 February. HBCA A.10/523.
Vanhamme, J., & Grobben, B. (2009). “Too good to be true!”. The effectiveness of CSR history in countering negative publicity. Journal of Business Ethics, 85(2), 273–283.
Wadhwani, R. D., & Decker, S. (2017). Clio’s toolkit: The practice of historical methods in organizational research. In R. Mir & S. Jain (Eds.), Routledge companion to qualitative research in organization studies (pp. 113–127). New York: Taylor and Francis.
Walsh, P. (2008). Education and the ‘universalist’ idiom of empire: Irish National School Books in Ireland and Ontario. History of Education, 37(5), 645–660.
Weick, K. E. (2001). Making sense of the organization. Oxford: Blackwell.
Whitely, M. (1957). The Bella Coola Road. The Beaver, XXXVII(2), 43.
Wilson, B. (1900). The Great Company (1677–1871). London: Smith, Elder and Company.
Wright, D. A. (2005). The professionalization of history in English Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Montpellier Business School (MBS) is a founding member of the public research center Montpellier Research in Management, MRM (EA 4557, Univ. Montpellier). Wim Van Lent is a member of the LabEx Entrepreneurship (University of Montpellier, France), funded by the French government (Labex Entreprendre, ANR-10-Labex-11-01).
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Van Lent, W., Smith, A.D. Using Versus Excusing: The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Long-Term Engagement with Its (Problematic) Past. J Bus Ethics 166, 215–231 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04320-7
- Historic corporate social responsibility
- Corporate engagement
- Settler colonialism
- Indigenous peoples
- Hudson’s Bay Company