Contentious social activism represents an increasingly prevalent source of enterprise risk and a key driver of corporate social reform. A contentious social activism refers to activists like NGOs and social movements that try to shape the way that the public understands corporate social responsibility and call firms out for problematic social behaviors, using tactics like boycotts and protests that leverage the media to make damaging claims about their targeted firms. The number of these types of activist challenges that targeted publicly traded firms each year has more than doubled in the past 15 years, and the companies that are most likely to be targeted are large high-status and recognizable brands. For example, Coca-Cola, and Disney, and Walmart average more than one large-scale boycott campaign per year. The interesting thing from a sociological and political science perspective about modern-day contention is that social movements used to be primarily targeted toward the state. So they would go to the state to ask the state to regulate industry. But today, they're increasingly going to firms directly to make their demands for reform. In some ways, this is surprising because the state provides a formal channel of influence and it has institutionalized means of expression and democratic representation. So this means that the state is designed to be driven up by bottom-up interests. Theoretically, it's designed to hear the types of issues that social movements are concerned about and to address them. To the contrary, corporations represent a relatively closed to polity. They have few routine channels for movements to affect decisions or to compel action. In order to have their voices heard, activists have to resort to relatively radical tactics like performative protests that get media attention and are more likely to be noticed by corporate leaders. Also the participants who are empowered within firms often times have interests that are unlikely to align with activist. Shareholders, for example, may not be moved by the same types of arguments that the broader public is. Yet activism is increasingly waged through private politics, bringing activists claims to firms. In part this is because of a growing perception in the public that corporations have co-opted the state and that regulation is only likely to happen once corporate champions have been secured. You can see this in a quote by the former head of Greenpeace when the shift toward targeting firms directly started to happen in 2001. He summed it up by saying, "The smart activists are now saying, 'Okay. You want to play markets, let's play.' They don't waste time throwing stones or lobbying the government that takes forever and can easily be counter-lobbied by corporations. No, no, no, they start with consumers at the pump, get them to pressure the gas stations, get the station owners to pressure the companies, and the companies to pressure governments." This quote illustrates a shift in the way that NGOs were thinking about shaping policy by working from the grassroots and going through companies to affect regulators instead of by asking regulators to affect the behavior of companies. In part the reason that this shift has occurred, too, is that modern-day companies, their power has eclipsed that of many governments. Many of our companies that are transnational have a reach that is broader than the boundaries of a given country, and so broader than the jurisdiction of any particular regulator. That in some ways makes them a better vehicle for addressing non-domestic problems or social movement issues that transcend the boundaries of any given country. Things like climate change may be better addressed by these multinationals than on a country to country basis. Companies may also be more vulnerable to social activists threats than the state because of modern-day trends toward an increase in consumer consciousness. What research suggests is that consumers care more and more about the social performance of their companies and they're willing to price in that social performance when they're making decisions about which products to select. More than that, consumers are increasingly empowered to make decisions about firms based on their relative social performance because they now have tools like certification programs, reputation or corporate social responsibility rankings, and the rise of social entrepreneurship and pro-social brands that help them to arbitrate between which companies are the good performers and which companies are hurting society. What makes a firm a good target? Any firm that is worried about being disrupted by, being targeted by social activists is concerned about its likelihood for being targeted. To understand the varying likelihood to be targeted, you have to understand there are three different kinds of logics of target selection that determine which firms have contentious movements challenge them more than others. The first logic of target selection is an instrumental form of activism, where social movements choose those targets that are most vulnerable to change. The idea here is that a social movements that's concerned with a given issue, something like animal rights, for example, would scan the field and first approach with a contentious challenge those firms that it thinks will be most likely to comply with its reform demands. Social movements that are using this logic of selection will look for signals that the company is more vulnerable to change. They'll look for things like if the leaders of the firm are sympathetic to the movements issue, if the firm is sensitive to reputational concerns, if the firm has active CSR commitments, some prior commitments to the social issue that's being violated. Activists recognize that hypocrisy is a powerful mobilizing force as it makes for a more interesting and salient media story. For this reasoning, companies that spend a lot of energy demonstrating their corporate social responsibility, companies like Starbucks, are also somewhat ironically much more likely to be targeted by contentious movements when their behavior deviates from the way that they portray themselves. The second logic of target selection is another form of instrumental activism, but here targets are selected because they make the best platforms to maximize broader impact. Sometimes movements are more interested in using a target to gain attention to an issue and mobilize support for a regulatory intervention than they are in getting that target to concede directly. In this case, the best targets may not be those that are most likely to concede, but rather they're chosen because they're vivid exemplars of a problematic behavior and they're most likely to provoke outrage from the broader public and help the movement to generate media attention to their campaign. So the types of targets that are most likely to be targeted within this logic are firms that have the poorest records in a given social domain and those that are known for being extremely resistant to activism historically, so firms like Exxon, for example. The final logic for target selection is a more retaliative or inspired activism. Sometimes social movements are rubbed against firms because stakeholders are simply enraged by a company's action or they're frustrated by their lack of power to affect its behavior. Here, social movements are happening not because of their likelihood of succeeding at their instrumental potential, but just because of their performative value to the people who want to express themselves. This kind of inspired activism is less easy to predict, given that targeted companies are not necessarily chosen because they're good targets per se, but they tend to be targeted in immediate, direct response to some disclosed behavior or a crisis.