[We’re pleased to welcome Anabella Davila and Christiane Molina of Tecnologico de Monterrey. Anabella and Christiane recently published an article in Business & Society, entitled “From Silent to Salient Stakeholders: A Study of a Coffee Cooperative and the Dynamic of Social Relationships.”]
A less-bureaucratic, hierarchal relationship, that is based on moral commitment to stakeholders, may benefit long-term understanding and solution of stakeholder claims, according to the article “From Silent to Salient Stakeholders: A Study of Coffee Cooperative and the Dynamic of Social Relationships,” published in the journal Business & Society, coauthored by Anabella Davila, a research professor and the leader of the Strategy and Management in Emerging Economies Research Group at EGADE Business School, Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico and Christiane Molina, professor at the Undergraduate School of Business, Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico State Campus.
This study of an indigenous coffee farmers’ cooperative association, which was once isolated and then began to compete on the fair-trade global market, notes that the “silence” of stakeholders is the result of an unequal relationship that is not focused on satisfying their needs. Since 1940, the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus Region (UCIRI, in Spanish), made up of small, independent farmers from the Tehuantepec Isthmus region (state of Oaxaca), had worked in government programs that promoted the coffee industry. However, it was not until they created a formal cooperative association in 1983 that UCIRI started to gain salience as a stakeholder of government agencies and fair-trade organizations.
The study centers on how interactions and relationships are developed between organizations and stakeholders, especially when the stakeholders come from communities at the periphery of society and economic activity. By analyzing data on the UCIRI’s past evolution, the authors found that the unequal, hierarchal, bureaucratic relationship between government agencies and coffee farmers was less effective for understanding and tending to their demands, including better living conditions. As “silent” individuals, small farmers were invisible in the stakeholder network, but when they became part of a formal group, they took their first steps toward “salience.”
In addition, it was thanks to mediation by the Dutchman Francisco VanderHoff Boersma, who had a strong moral commitment to the development of the communities in the region that UCIRI began to develop links with foreign fair-trade organizations and to move toward this market niche in the 1980s. This collaboration allowed the cooperative to export to Europe and the United States and to work with large distributors.
Thus, the authors stress the importance of individual mediators and a moral commitment when building a strong, lasting relationship that allows the demands of marginalized stakeholders to be satisfied. A less bureaucratic, hierarchal relationship—based on a moral commitment to stakeholders—benefits long-term understanding and stability of the relations between stakeholders and the organization.
Besides gaining “salience” within the coffee industry, the UCIRI members were empowered and earned recognition from authorities, becoming an important actor in the promotion of fair trade in Mexico.
Theoretical and empirical research on stakeholder behavior tends to focus on specific actions or responses in the context of the organization–stakeholder relationship. Despite increased efforts to look beyond the dyadic organization–stakeholder relationship, research still favors the perspective of the focal organization. The taken-for-granted assumption of the organization–stakeholder relationship may limit our understanding of how organization–stakeholder linkages are formed and evolve over time. By adopting the perspective of the stakeholder, this article examines organization–stakeholder relationship formation and tracks changes in the salience of stakeholder groups otherwise considered to be nonstakeholders. This research draws from a case study of small coffee producers in Southern Mexico who formed a cooperative and developed salience within their stakeholder network after a long history of diverse individual, organizational, and institutional arrangements. The findings suggest that the replacement of bureaucratic stakeholder relationships (i.e., those based on inequality, transactions, and hierarchy) with relationships characterized by strong moral commitment to stakeholders’ claims (in this case, the improvement of the community’s economic and social welfare) enabled independent farmers to transform into an integrated, solid, and worldwide competitive group of coffee producers.
You can read “From Silent to Salient Stakeholders: A Study of a Coffee Cooperative and the Dynamic of Social Relationships” from Business & Society free for the next two weeks by clicking here.
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