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Dressing up for Diffusion: Codes of Conduct in the German Textile and Apparel Industry, 1997–2010

Abstract

I study the diffusion of codes of conduct in the German textile and apparel industry between 1997 and 2010. Using a longitudinal case study design, I aim to understand how the diffusion of this practice was affected by the way important “infomediaries”—a trade journal and a professional association—shaped its understanding within the industry. My results show that time-consuming processes of meaning reconstruction by these infomediaries temporarily hampered but finally facilitated the broader material diffusion of codes of conduct within the industry. These findings detail existing conceptualizations of code diffusion as they demonstrate how infomediaries—through creation, use, and reconstruction of explanatory accounts as well as frames of reference—participate in defining the relevance and meaning of CSR practices. I move beyond prior empirical work as I explicitly assess not only processes of meaning construction evolving around a CSR practice but also how these processes over time coincide with quantitative patterns of its material diffusion. Implications of my findings for existing research on the diffusion of codes of conduct specifically and CSR practices in general as well as for conceptualizations of diffusion from institutional theory are discussed.

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Notes

  1. It should be noted here that the BSCI demands less strict standards compared to the FLA or ETI standard (Egels-Zandén and Wahlqvist 2007).

  2. Source http://www.ave-koeln.de/praesidium/index.htm. Accessed 19 April 2011.

  3. An alternative answer to this question might be that the negative media attention produced by the scandals at the end of the 1990s led to negative legitimacy spillovers within the industry which then provoked adoption by “innocent” firms. Nevertheless, prior research has shown that negative legitimacy spillovers are mostly immediate reactions by an audience (Jonsson et al. 2009). Thus, this argument does not hold in view of the considerable time lag between intense scandal-based reporting and massive adoption by small, non-brand firms (>5 years).

  4. It could also be argued that adopters have an interest in preventing further adoptions because of market differentiation. Nevertheless, this argument seems to be weaker, because nearly all large players have already adopted at this point in time, meaning that in their competitive subfield, a code of conduct has lost its potential value as a tool for market differentiation.

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Acknowledgments

I gratefully acknowledge the support of this research project by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). I thank Dominika Wruk, Michael Woywode, Achim Oberg as well as the anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on previous drafts of this manuscript. During the completion of this paper I also benefited from discussions at the Comparative Systems Workshop at Stanford University, the New Institutionalism Workshop 2009 in Naples, the EGOS 2009 Colloquium in Barcelona and the Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2010 in Montréal.

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Correspondence to Florian Scheiber.

Appendices

Appendix 1

See Table 5.

Table 5 Issue markers

Appendix 2

See Table 6.

Table 6 Example for category “account” [pressure]

Appendix 3

See Table 7.

Table 7 Example for category “no account”

Appendix 4

See Table 8.

Table 8 German companies that became subject to campaigns by the CCC

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Scheiber, F. Dressing up for Diffusion: Codes of Conduct in the German Textile and Apparel Industry, 1997–2010. J Bus Ethics 126, 559–580 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1964-z

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Keywords

  • Corporate code of ethics
  • Code of conduct
  • Diffusion
  • Discourse
  • Institutional theory
  • Infomediaries