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Opportunities and Problems of Standardized Ethics Initiatives – a Stakeholder Theory Perspective

Abstract

This article explains problems and opportunities created by standardized ethics initiatives (e.g., the UN Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, and SA 8000) from the perspective of stakeholder theory. First, we outline differences and commonalities among currently existing initiatives and thus generate a common ground for our discussion. Second, based on these remarks, we critically evaluate standardized ethics initiatives by drawing on descriptive, instrumental, and normative stakeholder theory. In doing so, we explain why these standards are helpful tools when it comes to ‘managing’ stakeholder relations but also face considerable limitations that can eventually hamper their successful expansion. We suspect that this discussion is necessary to conduct meaningful empirical research in the future and also to provide managers with a more clear-cut picture about a successful application of such initiatives. Third, we outline possible ways to cope with the identified problems and thus demonstrate how standard-setting institutions can improve the initiatives they offer.

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Abbreviations

FLA:

Fair Labor Association

GRI:

Global Reporting Initiative

ISEA:

Institute for Social and Ethical Accountability

MNC:

Multinational Corporation

NGO:

Non-Governmental Organization

SA 8000:

Social Accountability 8000

SAI:

Social Accountability International

UN:

United Nations

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Correspondence to Andreas Rasche.

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Dirk Ulrich Gilbert is currently a Professor of Management at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. He received his PhD in international management from Frankfurt University, Germany. Prior to his current appointment he was an Assistant Professor of International Management at The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. He has published articles in Business Ethics Quarterly, Journal of International Business and Economy, Swiss Journal of Business Research and Practice, and several other German top tier journals. He has also published three books and numerous book chapters on international business ethics. Most of his publications are related to international accountability standards, the philosophical foundations of business ethics in an international context, trust in organizations, and the implementation of business ethics in multinational corporations.

Andreas Rasche received his PhD from European Business School, Germany and is currently Assistant Professor for Business Ethics at Helmut-Schmidt-University, University of the Federal Armed Forces in Hamburg, Germany. He has published articles in the Journal of Business Ethics, Business Ethics Quarterly and authored numerous book chapters on international accountability standards. He has gained working experience at the United Nations in Washington D.C. and New York and works closely with the United Nations Global Compact Office. His research interests and publications focus on the process of standardization in the field of CSR and the adoption of standards by corporations. More information is available under http://www. arasche.com

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Gilbert, D.U., Rasche, A. Opportunities and Problems of Standardized Ethics Initiatives – a Stakeholder Theory Perspective. J Bus Ethics 82, 755–773 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-007-9591-1

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Keywords

  • accountability standards
  • compliance
  • corporate accountability
  • social audits
  • stakeholder theory
  • stakeholder dialog
  • ethical supply chains