Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 82, Issue 3, pp 755-773

First online:

Opportunities and Problems of Standardized Ethics Initiatives – a Stakeholder Theory Perspective

  • Dirk Ulrich GilbertAffiliated withInstitute of Economics, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg
  • , Andreas RascheAffiliated withDepartment of Organization and Logistics, Helmut-Schmidt-University Hamburg Email author 

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This article explains problems and opportunities created by standardized ethics initiatives (e.g., the UN Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, and SA 8000) from the perspective of stakeholder theory. First, we outline differences and commonalities among currently existing initiatives and thus generate a common ground for our discussion. Second, based on these remarks, we critically evaluate standardized ethics initiatives by drawing on descriptive, instrumental, and normative stakeholder theory. In doing so, we explain why these standards are helpful tools when it comes to ‘managing’ stakeholder relations but also face considerable limitations that can eventually hamper their successful expansion. We suspect that this discussion is necessary to conduct meaningful empirical research in the future and also to provide managers with a more clear-cut picture about a successful application of such initiatives. Third, we outline possible ways to cope with the identified problems and thus demonstrate how standard-setting institutions can improve the initiatives they offer.


accountability standards compliance corporate accountability social audits stakeholder theory stakeholder dialog ethical supply chains