Paths of Corporate Irresponsibility: A Dynamic Process

Abstract

In this qualitative meta-analysis, I analyze corporate irresponsibility as an emergent organizational process. Organizations enacting irresponsible practices rely not only on a particular form of a process path, but on how this process path evolves within the organization. To achieve a better understanding of this process path, I conducted a qualitative meta-analysis drawn from 20 published cases of irresponsible organizations. I explore how and under which conditions irresponsible behavior of organizations arises, develops, and changes over time. The process path of corporate irresponsibility relies on the interaction of multiple levels of analysis and its temporal occurrence, resulting in either path dependency or path creation. Based on the empirical findings of the evolving phenomena, this study focuses on three phases of corporate irresponsibility: institutionalization, problematization, and adaptation. The process of corporate irresponsibility can take two distinct paths, the reactive (organizations becoming locked-in in the path of corporate irresponsibility), and the proactive (organizations radically changing and breaking their path of corporate irresponsibility). This study contributes to the corporate irresponsibility literature by offering new insights into, first, a processual and more interactional approach to corporate irresponsibility that accounts for interdependencies on the different levels of each phase, and second, the self-reinforcing mechanisms and explanatory patterns of corporate irresponsibility leading to path dependency or path creation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The following cases were used as empirical basis for the proactive path: Chiquita, Deutsche Bank, FIFA, Nike, Royal Ahold.

  2. 2.

    The following cases were used as empirical basis for the reactive path: Abercrombie&Fitch, Apple, Boeing, Citigroup, Enron, Mannesmann, Nestlé, Olympus, Parmalat, Sanlu, Satyam, Siemens, Snow Brand, Tianlong.

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Acknowledgements

I greatly appreciate the feedback received from the advising JBE editor Sara Louise Muhr and the three anonymous reviewers for their guidance. I thank Alice Bauer, Stefanie Habersang, Markus Reihlen, Pauline Reinecke, Christoph Seckler, Thomas Wrona, and Sibel Yamak for their invaluable and constructive comments. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 14th European University Network on Entrepreneurship Conference, at the 8th Leuphana Conference on Entrepreneurship, and at the 10th EURAM Early Career Colloquium (EECC). I would like to thank the conference participants for their insightful comments on the earlier version of this article.

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Küberling-Jost, J.A. Paths of Corporate Irresponsibility: A Dynamic Process. J Bus Ethics 169, 579–601 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04263-z

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Keywords

  • Corporate irresponsibility
  • Qualitative meta-analysis
  • Corporate irresponsibility process
  • Process path