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The degree of business concern with social responsibility issues has

ebbed and flowed during the past thirty years. Corporate concerns have

mirrored fluctuations from the politically active 1960s, through the

consumer movement of the 1970s, into decline in the acquisition-dominated

1980s, and re-emergence in the rapid communication environment of the

1990s. Today, new communication tools are making social responsibility a

major planning challenge for businesses.

When activists first began challenging the societal role of business,

the tools available to them were limited and in most cases permitted only

local efforts to pressure corporations to adopt a desired stance toward

specific social responsibility issues. Unless an issue was perceived to affect

the country as a whole, mass media was not readily a partner in the battles

between corporations and special interest groups. Perhaps reactions to the

nuclear power industry following the Three Mile Island incident in the 1970s

or boycotts and condemnations of Exxon Corporation that followed the

Exxon Valdez accident in the 1980s are among the last successful national

advocacy campaigns directed at American business. Since then, most of the

social responsibility battles have been local skirmishes, such as the efforts

to save old growth forest in the Northwest and the blind cave pup fish in
Texas. These efforts have failed to attract national exposure.

New communication tools may be changing the isolation of social

responsibility clashes. With the expansion of the Internet and its connection

to a large percentage of the international population, activists now can

mount a social responsibility attack anywhere in the world and of whatever

magnitude they are willing to spend the time and effort to create.

The Internet now reaches millions of Asurfers@ in virtually every

industrialized and emerging nation in the world - even the Catholic church in

Brazil is offering free access to the Web ( Setting up

an Internet site for distribution of cause information is relatively

inexpensive. A World Wide Web server can be purchased and loaded with

the software needed for about $2,000.

In 1986, two activists in England objected to the arrival of McDonald=s

in their country. They printed a six-page fact sheet to inform anyone they

could get to listen about their perceptions of McDonalds= wrongdoing

related to corporate social responsibility.

This incident would likely have remained a local skirmish, but

McDonald=s England sued the pair for libel. By its end in 1997, the trial had

become the longest running court case in English history. The case was

dubbed AMcLibel@ ( The McSpotlight site asked for

others who had problems with McDonald=s to contribute information about

their concerns and it even includes a debating room for real-time

discussions of issues. The very slickly-done Web site now houses more than
1600 files of McDonalds= alleged social irresponsibility. Among other things,

the Website has been supplemented by a 60-minute documentary. The site

is also used to connect viewers to sites about other social responsibility

concerns, such as the oil industry, pharmaceuticals, and baby milk.

On the other hand, McDonald=s corporate headquarters established

its own Web site ( Although the site contains typical

corporate files including investor and franchising information, the site also

contains a kids= section outfitted with animated pictures (at the time it was

prepared, this was not an easy process to build into Web pages), coloring

books, and other information targeted at younger Web surfers. Also, the

site contains a section devoted to McDonalds= community social

responsibility. In fact, the link to these pages is plainly labeled Asocial


Since no one controls or polices content on the World Wide Web,

information placed on a Web site is not reviewed for accuracy by anyone but

the site=s Web master or reviewers asked to examine the material as a part

of organizational policy. Information advocating views on social issues no

longer receives scrutiny by media editors concerning its appropriateness,

accuracy, and legality before presentation to mass media audiences. With

the Internet, content can be published without editorial review. Diligent

promoters placing their site=s address on directories and accessible to

search engines can garner 100,000 hits per month or more following only a

few days of promotional activity.


1. Define the problems faced by businesses given the possibility of Internet

attack on social responsibility issues.
2. Discuss the consumer behavior concepts from the chapter that apply to
the case.
3. Using the PERMS approach, develop managerial strategies for an internet
retail business.


1. This case was written by David L. Sturges and updated by the second


2. Based on McDonalds (n.d./2000), AMcDonalds Corporation@

(; McSpotlight (n.d./2000). AMcInformation Network@,

( Robin Frost, AWeb=s Heavy U.S. Accent Grates on

Overseas Ears,@ The Wall Street Journal, September 26, 1996, pp. B6, B8;

and Geoff Dyer, ABrazil=s Evangelists Open the Portals of Heaven,@ The

Financial Times, February 12/13, 2000, p. 4.