Remembering to Forget: The Historic Irresponsibility of U.S. Big Tobacco




Coraiola, Diego M.

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Journal of Business Ethics


Society increasingly demands corporations to be accountable for their past misbehaviours. Some corporations engage in forgetting work with the aim of avoiding responsibility for their wrongdoings. We argue that whenever social actors have their past actions called into question and engage in forgetting work, an ethics of remembering takes place. A collective project of social forgetting is contingent on the emergence of coordinated actions among players of an industry. Similarly, sustained efforts of forgetting work depend on the continuity of the project through various generations of employees, which presumes the existence of frameworks of remembering in place. We analysed this paradox through a historical case study of the U.S. tobacco industry. We conclude that forgetting work may be a double-edged sword. It might be beneficial in the short run, to the extent that corporations can successfully maintain the public ignorance about their deceitful pasts. In the long run, however, it creates additional layers of historical irresponsibility and may turn into a compounded liability in the event the memory of the collective strategy of social forgetting becomes public.



Historic CSR, Organizational mnemonics, Tobacco industry


Coraiola, D.M. & Derry, R. (2020) Remembering to Forget: The Historic Irresponsibility of U.S. Big Tobacco, Journal of Business Ethics, 166, 233–252.