Using Versus Excusing: The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Long-Term Engagement with Its (Problematic) Past

2 11 2019
1024px-hudson27s_bay_company2c_lower_fort_garry2c_manitoba2c_canada2c_delivering_fur2c_1913

By Unknown /Valentine & Sons Ltd., Montreal + Toronto. Printed in London. – Ebay „scview“, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74666997

Many companies use their histories. For some companies, especially firms that aren’t trying to compete on price, being able to tell a compelling story about their long history is a major source of competitive advantage. Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company is an extreme example of that. For over a century, the HBC’s ability to use history has helped the firm to overcome many challenges, such as the invasion by US retail chains such as Sears and more recently the internet-driven Retail Apocalypse. But what happens if a group of activists starting saying that the company’s history is something to be ashamed of rather than proud of? What should the managers of the company do then?

The paper I co-authored paper with Wim Van Lent of Montpellier Business School looks at how the HBC has responded to Indigenous social activists who have charged that the firm’s great wealth came from exploiting Indigenous peoples and involvement in a wider project of what is now called cultural genocide (for examples of such claims, see this 2016 article in Maclean’s magazine). The paper was published today in Journal of Business Ethics, a journal on the Financial Times 50 list of top journals for management research.

In addition to being of interest to management academics and business practitioners in Canada and other New World countries (e.g., Australia) who think about relations between Indigenous peoples and business, this paper speaks to broader debates about how firms use history and respond to accusations of historical misdeeds.

You can read the paper here.


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