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Moral Discourse and Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting

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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.

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Correspondence to MaryAnn Reynolds.

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MaryAnn Reynolds is an Associate Professor of Accounting in the College of Business and Economics at Western Washington University. Dr. Reynolds teaches intermediate financial accounting and is published in the areas of corporate social, environmental and ethical reporting.

Kristi Yuthas is the Swigert Endowed Information Systems Professor in the School of Business Administration at Portland State University. Dr. Yuthas teaches accounting and information systems and is published in the areas of social and ethical impacts of management information systems.

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Reynolds, M., Yuthas, K. Moral Discourse and Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting. J Bus Ethics 78, 47–64 (2008).

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