UNTFSSE Award Series (2023 EMES International Research Conference): Silent Conformity – An Institutional Theory Perspective on the Relationship between Social Enterprises and the SDGs

Abstract - EN

Social enterprises (SEs) currently do not proactively signal their conformity to the normative pressure instigated by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their reporting practices. On top of threatening their legitimacy, such organizational inaction is puzzling given that contrary to their capitalist counterparts, SEs meet major predicting factors of organizational responsiveness put forward by institutional theorists. Hence, the aim of this paper is to provide a theoretical investigation of the obscured dynamic between SEs and SDGs. We make three contributions. First, we fill a theoretical gap by motivating why the concurrent applications of SEs’ core organizational principles ensures the operational conformity of SEs to the SDGs. Second, we identify a boundary condition to the general prediction of institutional theory by theoretically advancing and illustrating how the lack of legitimacy of a signaling practice may impede conformity signalment to a normative pressure, despite operational conformity. Combined, these contributions enable us to discuss the concept of silent conformity—which reverses the well-known notion of organizational decoupling—and discuss its implications and potential ways out in our context.