Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 223-246

First online:

A Political Account of Corporate Moral Responsibility

  • Wim DubbinkAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities, Tilburg University Email author 
  • , Jeffery SmithAffiliated withBanta Center for Business Ethics and Society, University of Redlands

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Should we conceive of corporations as entities to which moral responsibility can be attributed? This contribution presents what we will call a political account of corporate moral responsibility. We argue that in modern, liberal democratic societies, there is an underlying political need to attribute greater levels of moral responsibility to corporations. Corporate moral responsibility is essential to the maintenance of social coordination that both advances social welfare and protects citizens’ moral entitlements. This political account posits a special capacity of self-governance that corporations can intelligibly be said to possess. Corporations can be said to be “administrators of duty” in that they can voluntarily incorporate moral principles into their decision-making processes about how to conduct business. This account supplements and partly transforms earlier pragmatic accounts of corporate moral responsibility by disentangling responsibility from its conventional linkages with accountability, blame and punishment. It thereby represents a distinctive way to defend corporate moral responsibility and shows how Kantian thinking can be helpful in disentangling the problems surrounding the concept.


Corporations Moral responsibility Corporate moral responsibility Administrator of duty Business ethics Limits of law Punishment and blame Self-government Kantian moral philosophy