Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 78, Issue 1–2, pp 47–64 | Cite as

Moral Discourse and Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting

  • MaryAnn Reynolds
  • Kristi Yuthas


This paper examines voluntary corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting as a form of moral discourse. It explores how alternative stakeholder perspectives lead to differing perceptions of the process and content of responsible reporting. We contrast traditional stakeholder theory, which views stakeholders as external parties having a social contract with corporations, with an emerging perspective, which views interaction among corporations and constituents as relational in nature. This moves the stakeholder from an external entity to one that is integral to corporate activity. We explore how these alternative stakeholder perspectives give rise to different normative demands for stakeholder engagement, managerial processes, and communication. We discuss models of CSR reporting and accountability: EMAS, the ISO 14000 series, SA8000, AA1000, the Global Reporting Initiative, and the Copenhagen Charter. We explore how these models relate to the stakeholder philosophies and find that they are largely consistent with the traditional atomistic view but fall far short of the demands for moral engagement prescribed by a relational stakeholder perspective. Adopting a relational view requires stakeholder engagement not only in prescribing reporting requirements, but also in discourse relating to core aspects of the corporation such as mission, values, and management systems. Habermas’ theory of communicative action provides guidelines for engaging stakeholders in this moral discourse.


stakeholder engagement stakeholder reporting relational stakeholder perspective corporate social responsibility Theory of Communicative Action discourse ethics 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Apel K. O. 1980 Towards a Transformation of Philosophy. Routledge and Kegan Paul, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. Bebbington J., Gray R. H., Owen D. L. 1999 Seeing the Wood for the Trees: Taking the Pulse of Social and Environmental Accounting. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal 12(1):47–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beets S. D., Souther C. C. 1999 Corporate Environmental Reports: The Need for Standards and an Environmental Assurance Serve. Accounting Horizons 13(2):129–146Google Scholar
  4. Brown N., Deegan C. 1998 The Public Disclosure of Environmental Performance Information – A Dual Test of Media Agenda Setting Theory and Legitimacy Theory. Accounting and Business Research 29(1):21–41Google Scholar
  5. Buchholz R. A., Rosenthal S. B. 2005 Toward a Contemporary Conceptual Framework for Stakeholder Theory. Journal of Business Ethics 58:137–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carroll A., Bucholtz A. K. 2006 Business and Society: Ethics and Stakeholder Management. 6th ed. Southwestern Publishing, ThompsonGoogle Scholar
  7. Council on Economic Priorities Accreditation Agency 2000, ‚Social Accountability 8000’, http://www.
  8. Deegan C. 2002 The Legitimizing Effect of Social and Environmental Disclosures: A Theoretical Foundation. Accounting, Auditing, & Accountability 15(3):282–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Donaldson T., Preston L. 1995 The Stakeholder Theory of the Corporation: Concepts, Evidence, and Implications. Academy of Management Review 20:65–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eco-Management and Audit Scheme 2000, ‚Text of Council Regulation’ 1836/93, updated 2 May 2000. emas_reg_en.htm
  11. Elkington J. 1997 Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. Capstone, LondonGoogle Scholar
  12. FASB, Financial Accounting Standards Board: 1996, Statements of Financial Accounting Concepts (Wiley & Sons, Inc.)Google Scholar
  13. Global Reporting Initiative 2000, ‚Sustainability Reporting Guidelines’, www.globalreporting.orgGoogle Scholar
  14. Gray R. H., Kouhy R., Lavers S. 1995 Corporate Social and Environmental Reporting: A Review of the Literature and a Longitudinal Study of UK Disclosure. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal 8(2):47–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gray R. 2002 The Social Accounting Project and Accounting, Organizations and Society: Privileging Engagement, Imaginings, New Accountings and Pragmatism Over Critique. Accounting, Organizations and Society 27(7):687–708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Habermas J. 1984 The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, Vol. 1. Beacon Press, Boston, Translated by T. McCarthyGoogle Scholar
  17. Habermas J. 1987, The Theory of Communicative Action: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, Vol. 2 Beacon Press, Boston, Translated by T. McCarthyGoogle Scholar
  18. Habermas J. 1990 Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. MIT Press, Cambridge, Translated by C. Lenhardt and S. NicholsenGoogle Scholar
  19. Institute of Social and Ethical Accountability 1999, ‚AA1000 Standard’, uk/intro5.htm
  20. ISO 14000 Series 1996 American Society for Quality. Milwaukee, WisconsinGoogle Scholar
  21. Kelly M. 2001 The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  22. Kettner M. 1993 Citizen Virtues in a Technological Order. In: Winkler E., Coombs J. (eds) Applied Ethics: A Reader. Blackwell, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Lehman G. 1999 Disclosing New Worlds: A Role for Social and Environmental Accounting, and Auditing. Accounting Organizations and Society 24(3):217–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mathews M. R. 1997 Twenty-five Years of Social and Environmental Accounting, Research: Is There a Silver Jubilee to Celebrate? Accounting Auditing and Accountability Journal 10(4):1–531Google Scholar
  25. Mathews M. R. and M. A. Reynolds: 2001, ‚One Way Forward: Non-traditional Accounting Disclosures in the 21st Century’. Eco-Management and Auditing Conference, Nijmegen School of Management, June 2001Google Scholar
  26. Neu D., Warsame H., Pedwell K. 1998 Managing Public Impressions: Environmental Disclosures in Annual Reports. Accounting, Organizations and Society 23(3):265–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shocker A. D., Sethi S. P. 1974 An Approach to Incorporating Social Preferences in Developing Corporate Action Strategies. In: Sethi S. P. (ed) The Unstable Ground: Corporate Social Policy in a Dynamic Society. Melville, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  28. Sparkes R., Cowton C. J. 2004. The Maturing of Socially-Responsible Investment: A Review of the Developing Link with Corporate Social Responsibility. Journal of Business Ethics 52(1):45–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. The Copenhagen Charter 1999,
  30. Tinker A. M. 1985 Paper Prophets: A Social Critique of Accounting. Holt, Reinhart and WinstonGoogle Scholar
  31. Tinker T., Gray R. 2002 Beyond a Critique of Pure Reason: From Policy To Politics To Praxis In Environmental And Social Research. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal 16(5):727–761CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wood D. 2000 Theory and Integrity in Business and Society. Business and Society 39(4):359–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Western Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA
  2. 2.Portland State UniversityPortlandUSA

Personalised recommendations