This week’s research tidbits looks at drivers and inhibitors to staying ethical: are they merely camouflage tactics or genuine attempts?

A study of corporate codes of ethics
This paper presents a review of 100 empirical papers studying corporate codes of ethics (CCEs) in business organisations from the time period mid-2005 until mid-2016, following approximately an 11-year time period after the previous review of the literature.

The reviewed papers are broadly categorised as content-oriented, output-oriented, or transformation-oriented. The review sheds light on empirical focus, context, questions addressed, methods, findings and theory. The findings are discussed in terms of the three categories as well as the aggregate, stock of empirical CCE studies in comparison with previous reviews, answering the question “where are we now?” Content and output studies still stand for the majority of the studies, whereas the transformation studies are fewer.

Within these areas, two new trends are found to have emerged: discursive analyses and a focus on labour conditions. The review finds that (a) the content of CCEs is still predominantly self-defensive, (b) that CCEs are insufficient in themselves in terms of protecting workers’ rights, (c) that CCEs are likely to encounter tensions when implemented across national and organisational boundaries, and (d) that while perception of CCEs is generally positive, CCEs may lead to both positive and negative outcomes. Based on these findings, potential areas for further exploration in the area of CCE research are suggested.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Maira Babri, Bruce Davidson & Sven Helin. 2021. An Updated Inquiry into the Study of Corporate Codes of Ethics: 2005–2016.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(1), 71–108.

Strategies for social and environmental disclosure
This study investigates how firms in the gambling industry manage their corporate social disclosures (CSDs) about controversial issues. The authors performed thematic content analysis of CSDs about responsible gambling, money laundering prevention and environmental protection in the annual reports and stand-alone CSR reports (2009–2016) of four USA-based multinational gambling firms and their four Macao counterparts.

This study draws on impression management theory, camouflage theory and corporate integrity theory to examine the gambling firms’ CSDs. The authors infer that the CSD strategies of gambling firms in Macao and the USA did not serve as vehicles for reflexivity about social responsibility or social responsiveness. Instead, the firms camouflaged legitimacy gaps about sensitive topics by adopting assertive or defensive façades, disclaiming ethical responsibility, curtailing disclosure, or offering zero disclosure.

Differences between CSD strategies according to topic, location, time, and reporting channel appear to reflect four factors: pressure to report, availability of good news, whether a firm was assuming ethical responsibility for addressing the topic, and the prospective readership. This study extends our understanding of the contextual and topic-specific factors affecting the quantity and character of CSDs by firms in a contested industry.

Tiffany Cheng-Han Leung & Robin Stanley Snell. 2021. Strategies for Social and Environmental Disclosure: The Case of Multinational Gambling Companies.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(3), 447–467.

Tackling bribery at the firm level: Perspectives from Buddhist organisational leaders
This study explores the role of an informal institution—engaged Buddhism—in leadership responses to issues of bribery at the firm level in the context of Vietnam.

In-depth interviews were carried out in Vietnam with 26 organisational leaders who were Buddhist practitioners. The leaders expressed a Buddhist-enacted utilitarian approach based on three context-associated mechanisms: karmic consequences, community and social well-being, and total detachment. These mechanisms manifest in leadership approaches based on the Middle Way, Skillful Means, and Emptiness. They are involved in forming leaders’ perceptions about bribery issues and their enacting of contextual approaches to balance organisational means and ends in tackling ethical issues associated with bribery.

The study also sheds light on moral struggles involved in the process of shaping and enacting a Buddhist-enacted utilitarian approach.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

Mai Chi Vu. 2021. Tensions and Struggles in Tackling Bribery at the Firm Level: Perspectives from Buddhist-Enacted Organisational Leaders.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(3), 517–537.

Drivers and inhibitors of internet privacy concerns
This paper investigates the drivers and inhibitors of Internet privacy concern. Applying the Multidimensional Development Theory to the online environment, the authors identify the important factors under four dimensions—i.e., environmental, individual, information management, and interaction management.

The authors tested the model using data from an online survey of 2417 individuals in Hong Kong. The results show that the factors under all four dimensions are significant in the formation of Internet privacy concern. Specifically, familiarity with government legislation, Internet knowledge, benefit of information disclosure, privacy protection, and social presence reduce Internet privacy concern, while individuals’ previous privacy invasion experience, risk avoidance personality, and sensitivity of information requested by websites increase Internet privacy concern. The authors conducted an analysis of unobserved heterogeneity to confirm the significance of these factors.

A follow-up moderation analysis shows that the individual factors (i.e., previous privacy invasion experience, risk avoidance personality, and Internet knowledge) moderate the effects of the information management factor (i.e., information sensitivity) and the interaction management factors (i.e., privacy protection and social presence). The findings provide an integrated understanding of the formation of Internet privacy concern.

Weiyin Hong, Frank K. Y. Chan & James Y. L. Thong. 2021. Drivers and Inhibitors of Internet Privacy Concern: A Multidimensional Development Theory Perspective.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(3), 539–564.

Data protection regulation in the age of surveillance capitalism
Clicks, comments, transactions, and physical movements are being increasingly recorded and analysed by Big Data processors who use this information to trace the sentiment and activities of markets and voters. While the benefits of Big Data have received considerable attention, it is the potential social costs of practices associated with Big Data that are of interest to us in this paper.

Prior research has investigated the impact of Big Data on individual privacy rights, however, there is also growing recognition of its capacity to be mobilised for surveillance purposes. This paper delineates the underlying issues of privacy and surveillance and presents them as in tension with one another. The authors postulate that efforts at controlling Big Data may create a trade-off of risks rather than an overall improvement in data protection. The authors explore this idea in relation to the principles of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as it arguably embodies the new ‘gold standard’ of cyber-laws.

The authors posit that safeguards advocated by the law, anonymisation and pseudonymisation, while representing effective counter measures to privacy concerns, also incentivise the use, collection, and trade of behavioural and other forms of de-identified data. The authors consider the legal status of these ownerless forms of data, arguing that data protection techniques such as anonymisation and pseudonymisation raise significant concerns over the ownership of behavioural data and its potential use in the large-scale modification of activities and choices made both on and offline.

Jane Andrew & Max Baker. 2021. The General Data Protection Regulation in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(3), 565–578.

The emergence of CSR communication
Recent reviews show a rapid increase in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication literature. However, while mapping the literature and the field of CSR communication, they do not fully capture the evolutionary character of this emerging interdisciplinary endeavour. This paper seeks to fill this gap by presenting a follow-up study of the CSR communication literature from a dynamic perspective, which focuses on micro-discursive changes in the field.

A bibliometric approach and frame theory are used to examine (dis)continuities in the development of field ‘frames’ in three consecutive periods between 2002 and 2016. The article highlights the growing fragmentation of the CSR communication field over time and the existence of 11 distinct frames during the field’s emergence, whereby the two most prominent in the three time periods are the reporting and business case frames. Regardless, they are subjected to discursive changes as well. For example, they become split into stakeholder-focused, business case and institutionalisation frame and contested by the constitutive logic, respectively.

The paper argues that interdisciplinary fields like CSR communication can rarely exist without contestation. It also shows that micro-framing processes such as fragmentation, merging and extension visibly shape the identified field frames and the overall discursive dynamic of the CSR communication field while investigating their value for sustaining the field’s polyphonic state and further development. The study findings suggest that additional cross-fertilisation processes between the CSR communication literature and sustainability and digital communication research hold the potential to influence the next stage of the field’s discursive evolution.

Nataša Verk, Urša Golob & Klement Podnar. 2021. A Dynamic Review of the Emergence of Corporate Social Responsibility Communication.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(3), 491–515.