An Integrational Framework of Organizational Moral Development, Legitimacy, and Corporate Responsibility: A Longitudinal, Intersectoral Analysis of Citizenship Reports

AuthorGabriella Lewis,Sergio Palacios,Marcus A. Valenzuela
Published date01 December 2016
Date01 December 2016
An Integrational Framework
of Organizational Moral
Development, Legitimacy,
and Corporate Responsibility:
A Longitudinal, Intersectoral
Analysis of Citizenship
In this article, we outline a unique conceptual framework
connecting legitimacy types (Suchman, 1995), theories of
corporate responsibility (Brummer, 1991), and levels of
organizational moral development based on Kohlberg’s
(1971) moral development stages. In addition, based on
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) categories, we found
empirical support for our framework, by content analyz-
ing Fortune 500 corporate citizenship reports from four
different industries (i.e., chemicals, motor vehicle/auto
parts, pharmaceutical, and utilities), at three data points
Gabriella Lewis is a PhD Candidate in the Management Department, College of Business at
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM. E-mail: Sergio Palacios is a
Visiting Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies in the Greehey School of Business at St.
Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX. E-mail: Marcus A. Valenzuela is
an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management and Marketing, School of Business &
Public Administration at California State University, Bakersfield, CA. E-mail: mvalenzuela12@
C2016 W. Michael Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University. Published by
Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington
Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.
Business and Society Review 121:4 593–623
(i.e., 2002, 2007, and 2012). Our analysis indicates that
motor vehicle/auto parts and chemicals industries are at
a higher developmental level, and portray moral legitima-
cy along with social demandingness corporate responsi-
bility in recent years; while the pharmaceutical and
utilities sectors are at a lower developmental level, show-
ing signs of pragmatic legitimacy, alongside classical and
stakeholder corporate responsibility strategies. This arti-
cle contributes to the current organizational moral devel-
opment literature by developing and finding empirical
support of a conceptual framework of organizational mor-
al development, legitimacy, and corporate responsibility.
In particular, our findings provide a deeper understand-
ing of the differences in moral development levels across
four focal industries over a 10-year timespan.
We intend the term “moral” to be understood in the restricted
sense of referring to situations which call for judgments such as
right or wrong, duty and obligation, having a right, fairness, etc.,
although such judgments may (or may not) involve either or both
of the other two basic concepts or their derivatives. (Kohlberg and
Hersh 1977, p. 58).
In recent years, the notion of “doing good while making a profit”
view of corporate responsibility (CR) has become an increasingly
important aspect of business in terms of reputation, profitability,
and other performance metrics (e.g., Blodgett et al. 2014; Walker
and Dyck 2014). Recently, researchers have explored CR in different
contexts, such as weak economies (Rahim 2013) and less-regulated
environments (Blodgett et al. 2014). Other researchers have devel-
oped conceptual frameworks that advance our understanding of CR
(e.g., Peters et al. 2014). While previous research has extensively
covered various aspects of CR efforts and reporting there is a notice-
able shortage of theoretical frameworks to describe and explain CR
patterns across time and across sectors. For instance, the current
literature explores CR for specific sectors such as banking (Branco

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