Journal of International Business Studies

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 153–179 | Cite as

“Understanding the words of relationships”: Language as an essential tool to manage CSR in communities of place

  • W Travis Selmier II
  • Aloysius Newenham-KahindiEmail author
  • Chang Hoon Oh


Multinational enterprises (MNEs) encounter relentless stakeholder pressures when operating across linguistic, cultural and institutional boundaries. Our aims are to examine whether and how acquisition of language resources may help MNEs to bridge these boundaries and reduce pressures on MNE legitimacy by improving their corporate social responsibility (CSR) outcomes. We propose an MNE model of language resource acquisition policy based on three language orientations: “language-as-problem,” “language-as-resource” and “language-as-right.” Using sociolinguistic tools – an “ecological” analysis of how language affects MNE–stakeholder relationships – and surveying 15 mining MNEs from Australia, Canada, China, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom operating in East Africa, our research found some MNEs employ regional lingua francas like Swahili and local leadership practices to build sustainable relationships with local stakeholders. These local stakeholders are members of communities of place (CofP), who steward the land their ancestors have inhabited for centuries, and their voices have grown as to how that land is used. As their voices have grown, MNEs should improve CSR outcomes with CofP through better communications. A well-designed language acquisition policy may improve such communication and so fend off threats to MNE legitimacy.


language (language design, silent language, translation) MNE–stakeholder relationships corporate social responsibility communities of place Swahili, Africa 



The authors acknowledge the constructive comments of the editor, Mary Yoko Brannen, and three anonymous reviewers. This research was supported by the social sciences for humanities research council, Canada (SSHRC – Grant No. 410-2011-2691). This research also benefited from the direct assistance of a number of government institutions and non-governmental organizations: The Tanzania Foundation for Civil Society, Community Development and Relief Trust, the Tanzania Investment Centre, The Tanzania Revenue Authority, the Uganda Investment Authority, Rwanda Development Board and the Burundi Investment Promotion Agency.


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Copyright information

© Academy of International Business 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • W Travis Selmier II
    • 1
  • Aloysius Newenham-Kahindi
    • 2
    Email author
  • Chang Hoon Oh
    • 3
  1. 1.Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Edwards School of Business, University of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  3. 3.Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser UniversityVancouverCanada

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