“Toxic, but in a good way”: H&M in Russia during the Ukraine war as seen through consumer activism on TikTok

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While scholars have explored how business has increasingly been involved in socio-political issues (Scherer et al., 2016; van der Meer & Jonkman, 2021), less attention has been given to the process of how businesses are held accountable for those issues by stakeholders (Reinecke & Ansari, 2016). Current studies show that multinational corporations are sometimes forced to take a stand on divisive political issues because of conflicting expectations from different groups of stakeholders (e.g., Zhao & Valentini, 2022). In a globalized world characterised by a hybrid media system, this takes place to a large extent in social media, forcing corporations to act in the intersection between political logics, business logics, and media logics. In this paper, we study how corporate political responsibility is constructed through mediated consumer activism on the short-form video hosting site TikTok as viewed through the lens of the global fast fashion company H&M’s actions in Russia in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
H&M kept Russian stores open while the Ukrainian ones were closed immediately after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. H&M’s response caused an uproar on social media among stakeholders who urged a boycott of H&M and to target them via mail and other contacts. In March 2022, H&M suspended all sales in Russia in March, and in July 2022, H&M decided to leave Russia permanently.
Corporate political responsibility has been studied in general management, business ethics and political economy (Frynas & Stephens, 2015). Most existing studies thus take the organizational perspective and examine corporate intervention in socio-political issues for solving regulatory voids (e.g., Banerjee, 2008) or gaining their legitimacy (e.g., Crane, 2013).
While the existing studies have enlightened us about how corporate actors have engaged in public discussion regarding socio-political issues, we know relatively little about whether and how the public discussion would prompt corporations to rethink their political responsibility for an issue (Reinecke & Ansari, 2016).
To fill this gap, this study draws the insights from social movement studies and examines how consumer activists construct responsibility and moral engagement through which corporations may come to accept responsibility, especially political responsibility (Scherer et al., 2013).
We study corporate political responsibility as constructed through consumer activism on the short-form video hosting site TikTok, as it is one of the most widely used social media services among young people globally (Iqbal, 2020). TikTok videos containing relevant keywords and hashtags such as #H&M + #Russia, #russiainukraine, etc, and posted during 2022 are downloaded. We then employ content analysis to study video, video text, sound, hashtags, caption and comments to interpret the meaning and interaction around each post.
This study contributes by: (1) bridging insights from social movement studies and corporate political responsibility studies to explain how consumer activism contributes to corporate political responsibilization for a geopolitical issue; (2) exploring the emerging role of short videos as political communication in constructing corporate political responsibility for a socio-political issue.
Banerjee, S. B. (2008). Corporate social responsibility: The good, the bad and the ugly. Critical sociology, 34(1), 51-79.
StatusUnpublished - 2023 aug. 18
EvenemangNordMedia Conference 2023 - Bergen, Norge
Varaktighet: 2023 aug. 162023 aug. 18


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