Article

Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 98, Issue 2, pp 247-258

Losses from Failure of Stakeholder Sensitive Processes: Financial Consequences for Large US Companies from Breakdowns in Product, Environmental, and Accounting Standards

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Abstract

This article makes first use of a set of databases that are authoritative, independent, and consistent to examine an old research question: do firms hurt their financial performance by damaging stakeholder interests? The databases are US government on-line listings of fines for environmental breaches, unsafe workplaces, fraudulent accounting standards, and product recalls. These measures are assumed to proxy for signals to stakeholders of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks in transacting with the firm and appear to have fewer biases than conventional measures of stakeholder standards. Using a sample of all non-financial S&P 500 firms during the most recent 1998–2003 full cycle in the market, after controlling for firm-specific differences, sales margins of firms fell by 0.8% if they announced a product recall and by 0.4% if cited by OSHA for an unsafe workplace; and shareholder return was significantly reduced by an EPA or SEC prosecution. This study links the risk of transaction uncertainty, information signaling theory, and the resource-based view of the firm to company financial performance. Results support the normative assumption that a firm’s sales margin will be damaged by unethical treatment of stakeholders as evidenced by ESG breaches, presumably because risk-averse customers and suppliers are alert to signals of counterparty risk.

Key words

ESG ethics behavioral corporate finance stakeholder risk