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From Stakeholder Management to Stakeholder Accountability

Applying Habermasian Discourse Ethics to Accountability Research

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Confronted with mounting pressure to ensure accountability vis-à-vis customers, citizens and beneficiaries, organizational leaders need to decide how to choose and implement so-called accountability standards. Yet while looking for an appropriate standard, they often base their decisions on cost-benefit calculations, thus neglecting other important spheres of influence pertaining to more broadly defined stakeholder interests. We argue in this paper that, as a part of the strategic decision for a certain standard, management needs to identify and act according to the needs of all stakeholders. We contend that the creation of a dialogical understanding among affected stakeholders cannot be a mere outcome of applying certain accountability standards, but rather must be a necessary precondition for their use. This requires a stakeholder dialogue prior to making a choice. We outline such a discursive decision framework for accountability standards based on the Habermasian concept of communicative action and, in the final section, apply our conceptual framework to one of the most prominent accountability tools (AA 1000).

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AA 1000:

AccountAbility 1000


Global Reporting Initiative


Institute of Social and Ethical Accountability


International Organization for Standardization


Social and Ethical Accounting, Auditing, and Reporting


Non-Governmental Organization

SA 8000:

Social Accountability 8000


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Author information

Correspondence to Andreas Rasche.

Additional information

Andreas Rasche is currently working at the chair for Business Administration at the Helmut-Schmidt-University, Hamburg, Germany and is finishing his PhD in strategic management at EUROPEAN BUSINESS SCHOOL, Germany where he is also teaching business ethics. His research interests include the institutionalization of ethics initiatives in multinational corporations (see also www.ethics-in-pratice.org) and reflections about the theory of strategic management. Daniel Esser until recently was a Tutorial Fellow in Development Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is now working for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific where he is involved in the design and management of urban governance programmes and service schemes supporting the poverty reduction agenda for the region.

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Rasche, A., Esser, D.E. From Stakeholder Management to Stakeholder Accountability. J Bus Ethics 65, 251–267 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-005-5355-y

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  • accountability standards
  • discourse ethics
  • Habermas
  • organizational accountability
  • stakeholder management
  • stakeholder dialogue