Sub-Plenary 1-5

Woke Capitalism – A Global Perspective


Thursday, July 4, 2024, 16:00–17:30 CEST

U6 Building – “AGORÀ” | Room: U6-P0-08 | Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo, 1 | 20126 Milano

Organizer & Chair:
Stefan Schwarzkopf, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

Fahreen Almagir, Monash Business School, Australia
Jannick Friis Christensen, Novo Nordisk, Denmark
Carl Rhodes, UTS Business School, Australia
Genevieve Shanahan, Cardiff Business School, United Kingdom

There has been a flurry of both popular and academic books denouncing global cynical C-suite capitalists, who exploit diversity and who fake corporate morality in order to maintain their position of power in the exploitative socio-economic system of capitalism (Leong, 2021; McWorther, 2021; Ramaswamy, 2021; Rhodes, 2022). Examples that are often quoted in the literature include companies that contribute heavily to global warming, such as BP and Microsoft, which very publicly promote carbon offsetting projects in an attempt to convince people of the virtues of ‘green capitalism’ and purely market-based solutions to the environmental crisis (Buller, 2022). An equally egregious example is the endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement by Nike, a corporation that has been notorious for exploiting low-wage labour in sweatshops. Recently, for example, Nike came under the scrutiny of the #PayYourWorkers campaign (2023) because of 3.2–5.8 billion USD in unpaid wages in global supply chains of apparel.

Interestingly, complaints about the so-called ‘woke capitalists’ can be heard on progressive community radio stations as well as on Fox News. Our plenary will attempt to move the debate on woke capitalism forward in two directions. Firstly, members of the panel will apply a form of ‘strategic naivety’ to discuss whether woke capitalism actually exists. Given the prominence of the examples quoted above, this question might sound superfluous. Yet, looking at the existing literature in more detail, it turns out that we know in fact very little about the strategic intentions and belief systems of those that work within large corporations on issues related to socio-economic, environmental, gender, ethnic and racial justice (Olenick & Somaraju, 2024). Moreover, existing debates have paid little attention to the effects of woke capitalism in the Global South, especially as it relates to multistake-holderism in global and corporate accountability to civil society (Brooks & Kumar, 2023). Very little is known about the reactions of audiences in the developing world to corporate social initiatives that mostly seem to be aimed at audiences (investors, regulators, consumers, etc.) in the economically developed global North.
This sub-plenary fits into the main theme of the EGOS Colloquium 2024 by discussing the issue of woke capitalism beyond its status as a slogan and political battle cry. When large corporations do indeed begin to take a stand on issues of social and environmental justice in ways that were unthinkable or deemed socially inappropriate decades before (think of LGBTQ+ themed branding that now fills our supermarkets in the ‘Pride months’ of June and August), it is clear that some form of crossroad has been reached. What left-wing critics suggest is that the organizations in question are not genuine about the intended path, whereas right-wing critics bemoan that such a path should not have been taken in the first place. At any rate, the debate on ‘woke’ means that corporate capitalism has been put in a space in which specific social practices, inequities and woes are more visible than before. This requires our community to explore concepts more deeply so that social and environmental responsibilities of organizations can be questioned and changed.
Each of the panelists will be given 5 minutes to present their take on the subject of woke capitalism. This will be followed by a moderated discussion with the audience. The panellists and the audience will be asked to adopt particular roles that are known from a courtroom.

  • Carl Rhodes and Fahreen Alamgir will act as prosecutors and present evidence for the existence and ill consequences of woke capitalism for democracy.

  • Jannick Friis Christensen will play the devil’s advocate and defend woke capitalism against what he thinks are misled beliefs as to its existence and consequences.

  • Thirdly, Genevieve Shanahan will weigh up the evidence and issue sentencing guidelines for the jury in our case, which is the audience.

In the debate with the audience, we will be specifically aiming at widening the perspective of what so far has been a very ‘First World’ debate.


  • #PayYourWorkers campaign – Clean Clothes Campaign (2023): Pay Your Workers – Respect Labour Rights,
  • Brooks, S., & Kumar, A. (2023): “Why the Super-Rich Will Not Be Saving the World: Philanthropy and ‘Privatization Creep’ in Global Development.” Business & Society, 62 (2), 223–228.
  • Buller, V. (2022): The Value of a Whale: On the Illusions of Green Capitalism. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Leong, A. (2021): Identity Capitalists: the Powerful Insiders Who Exploit Diversity to Maintain Inequality. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • McWorther, J. (2021): Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. New York: Random House.
  • Olenick, J., & Somaraju, A. (2024): “Questionable assumptions and the study of emergent diversity effects.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 38 (1), 120–131.
  • Ramaswamy, V. (2021): Woke, Inc. Inside the Social Justice Scam. New York: Hachette.
  • Rhodes, C. (2022): Woke Capitalism: How Corporate Morality is Sabotaging Democracy. Bristol: Bristol University Press.
  • Táíwò, O.O. (2022): Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took over Identity Politics (and Everything Else). Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Fahreen Alamgir is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Management, Monash Business School, USA. Her work examines organizational challenges and mechanisms from the perspectives of social justice, and rights and capabilities of the involved and affected communities in response to globalisation and sustainable development initiatives in the context of local organizational realities. Fahreen’s current research focuses on global value chain and employment relations in the Bangladeshi apparel industry. This work has appeared in the Journal of Business Ethics, Organization, and Human Relations, amongst others.
Jannick Friis Christensen is the Lead Diversity & Inclusion Engagement Partner, Novo Nordisk, Denmark. His research focusses on norm-critical approaches to organizing and researching diversity, LGBT+ workplace inclusion from queer perspectives, and on alternative organizations. Jannick’s research has appeared, amongst others, in Organization, Human Resource Management Review, Culture & Organization, and ephemera.
Carl Rhodes is Professor and Dean at UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. He researches the relationship between business and society in the nexus between liberal democracy and contemporary capitalism. Carl’s most recent book is “Woke Capitalism: How Corporate Morality is Sabotaging Democracy” (Bristol University Press, 2022), which was reviewed very widely and contributed to an emerging academic debate around the subject. Other work has appeared in Organization Studies, Human Relations, and in Organization, amongst others.
Genevieve Shanahan is Lecturer in Management, Employment and Organisation at Cardiff Business School, United Kingdom. Her research focusses on alternative organizations, work and how technology can be used to open up new possibilities for democracy. She studies organizations that are opposed to the injustices of social configurations reproduced by mainstream organizations. Genevieve is also interested in how technology impacts work, how work can be more justly organized, and how this might permit more justice in society overall. Her work has appeared, amongst others, in Organization, Human Relations, and in Organization Studies.