Some quotes about the book so far


The BBC’s Humphrey Hawksley writes:

” The pact between government and citizens, therefore, is being determined by far more obscure elements, drawing us back to 1762 when Jean-Jacques Rousseau coined the phrase “The Social Contract.”This challenged the right of monarchies to rule and emphasized that power should be in the hands of that indefinable entity of the state, whose architecture would be decided by an equally indefinable force – the will of the people.

Each of the recent protests are different and respond to different issues,” says John Morrison, author of The Social License, which examines how organizations acquire and lose legitimacy. “But some clearly relate specifically to what might be called ‘political license,’ attempts by populations to renegotiate the social contract granted to specific governments – or at least to make such governments more accountable.” (Excerpt from YaleGlobal, 7 October 2014)

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart (former Chair of Shell and Anglo-American) writes:

“This book on the “Social License” reflects this wide experience and the development of his thinking. It is a valuable and balanced analysis of how the trust of society and legitimacy is gained or lost. As someone who has spent much time grappling with these very issues I found myself while reading this well written book repeatedly thinking “Ah yes, but …” only to find that Morrison himself has explored the “but” thoroughly on the next pages, with valuable insights..

“In the introduction Morrison says that the book is not intended to be the reflections of an academic nor intended to be a management guide. In spite of this, I found the analysis highly relevant and it is in fact a valuable guide for managers. He says “ the story I tell is aimed at shifting our collective thinking and to start asking some of what I see as the right questions”. He does indeed ask the right questions and begins to answer them in ways that would make a discussion over a pint of Morrison’s favourite Harvey’s beer, brewed in Lewes in memory of Thomas Paine, both enlightening and enjoyable.”  (Excerpt from review for Lawyers for Better Business)

Paul Polman (CEO of Unilever) writes:

“Provocative and challenging The Social License makes a compelling case for why companies must look to increase their positive social impact as an integral part of their core business strategies.”

The leading commentator on ethical investment, Rory Sullivan, writes:

“Inevitably, when it becomes clear that the original vision will not be delivered, the search begins for the next big idea that, this time, will definitely reshape the relationship between companies and society. It is in this context of the constant search for the next big idea in corporate responsibility that John Morrison’s new book – The Social License: How to Keep Your Organization Legitimate – is so important. Rather than trying to develop a new concept, he simply takes the idea of the social licence to operate (a term widely used in the extractive industries) and asks what this might look like if it was analysed in terms of the “social contract” between business and society.” (Excerpt from review for Ethical Corporation)

Margot Wallstrom (now Foreign Minister of Sweden) writes (shortly before her appointment):

“My three words to describe John Morrison’s book: Timely ­– because what used to be acceptable behaviour by business a few decades ago is no longer the case today and because social license is much more than CSR; Targeted – because it reaches out not only to business but also governments and civil society; Trustworthy – because with his vast experience and knowledge John Morrison, convinces us both theoretically and practically. A book to be read, discussed, and used!”

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change writes:

“John Morrison has led significant initiatives on business and human rights over recent years.  Now his book takes some of that collective experience and orders it conceptually in a way that is accessible and makes an important point about the social licence of corporations to operate.”

John G. Ruggie, Professor of Human Rights and International Affairs, Harvard University; former United Nations Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, writes:

“In this provocative book, John Morrison takes us beyond CSR into the realm of ‘the social license’ and how it is earned, and then all the way to the social contract on which any sustainable societal order ultimately must rest. The intellectual journey is well worth the while.”

Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director, Greenpeace International, writes:

The Social License is fundamentally about accountability to people and not just powerful interests. John Morrison’s book reminds all organizations – governments, business and civil society – to focus on the legitimacy of their own actions.”

Ed Potter, Director, Global Workplace Rights, The Coca-Cola Company, writes:

“John Morrison has written a thought provoking, path-finding book that should be essential reading for any corporate executive seeking to achieve a growing, sustainable business.  It sets out a textured, multi-layered, challenging framework that is foundational to maintaining a social license in a social media world of increasing and rising expectations.”

The OECD’s Roel Nieuwenkamp writes:

“Although Morrison questions how CSR is conceptualized today, this book is a must read for CSR practitioners.  The Social License connects age old philosophical concepts, like the Social Contract, with modern case studies of BP, Newmont, Shell, Dow Chemicals and the Body Shop.”   (Excerpt from review at Friends of the OECD Guidelines)

Paul Hohnen writes:

“Anyone who has had the privilege of hearing John Morrison speak, or read his other writings, will know broadly what to expect. This book is a deeply thoughtful and informative analysis of evolving social, business and regulatory expectations and trends, drawing on the author’s score of years experience at the front line of the business and human rights movement.”  (Excerpt from review at The Smarter Business Blog)

And John Morrison writes:

“Social licence can never be self-awarded, it requires that an activity enjoys sufficient trust and legitimacy, and has the consent of those affected. Business cannot determine how much prevention or mitigation it should engage in to meet environmental or social risk – stakeholders and rights-holders have to be involved for thresholds of due diligence to be legitimate (sometimes even if these are clearly determined in law).”  (Excerpt from The Guardian website)



London book launch report – 29 Sept 2014


Thanks to the 110 of you who attended the London book launch on 29 September 2014 kindly hosted by Amnesty International UK on behalf of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Palgrave MacMillan (the book publisher). The panel (pictured above) consisted – from left – of the chair Humphrey Hawksley (BBC), Ramanie Kunanayagam (BG Group), Peter Frankental (Amnesty International UK) and me (the author).

It was a vibrant discussion ranging from Shell Nigeria, BP Gulf of Mexico to supply chains in the apparel sector. All panelists recognised that the ‘social licence’ concept was an emerging one – but there was critical analysis of interpretations devoid of core concepts such as legitimacy and consent. Panellists challenged existing approaches to social responsibility in different ways. Arguably, there was consensus that the role of the private sector in relation to social impacts is an inevitable one – from the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals to the Internet Governance debate. What is needed are more robust conversations about the how non-state actors such as business impact on the pre-existing social contract in ways to do not undermine the state and ensure strong accountability.

We were particularly honoured to have Maria Saro-Wiwa (the widow of Ken Saro-Wiwa – the Nigerian activist murdered by the state in 1995) with us for the event. We must all work to ensure that  Ken’s legacy is not forgotten.