Neoliberal governance, evaluations, and the rise of win–win ideology in corporate responsibility discourse, 1960–2010

Despite conflicts between social and economic goals, contemporary US firms routinely depict such aims as synergistic. Analyzing 300 annual reports from a sample of 80 large US public firms between 1960 and 2010, we examine the rise of ‘win–win’ conceptions of corporate responsibility (CR), which include both the social benefits of economic activities and economic gains from social responsibility. Our findings support arguments that the rise of win–win ideology in large corporations is tied to the emergence of neoliberal governance in society. Indicators of firms’ changing institutional context include financialization, numbers of non-profit organizations and voluntary regulation schemes. However, the macroeffect is mediated by firm attention to these institutional changes; mentions of external evaluations in annual reports are associated with higher levels of win–win ideology. The study contributes to institutional theories of the historical development of CR and to understanding heterogeneous organizational responses to societal-level institutional change.