#MeToo and lessons in stakeholder responsibility

AuthorKeith William Diener,Emmanuel Small
Published date01 December 2019
Date01 December 2019
Bus Soc Rev. 2019;124:449–465.
The #MeToo movement presents novel challenges for firms that are associated with individuals who
are accused of sexual misconduct. This article utilizes the theory of stakeholder responsibility as a
model for addressing the unique issues arising out of #MeToo incidents. While business ethics literature
often examines obligations of firms, this article examines the contrary and relatively under-explored
notion of obligations of stakeholders in #MeToo instances, with a focus on incidents that occur in the
television industry. It discusses the responsibilities of stakeholders when one stakeholder engages in
sexual misconduct, thereby harming the firm and other stakeholders. By articulating and exploring the
responsibilities of stakeholders in this context, we hope to provide a conceptual foundation for working
through the novel challenges associated with #MeToo incidents. The responsibilities identified in this
article may further be adapted to other contexts and instances of stakeholder irresponsibility.
DOI: 10.1111/basr.12185
#MeToo and lessons in stakeholder responsibility
KeithWilliam Diener
© 2019 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.
School of Business, Stockton University,
Galloway, NJ, USA
Keith William Diener, School of Business,
Stockton University, 101 Vera King Farris
Dr., Galloway, NJ 08205, USA.
Email: Keith.Diener@stockton.edu
Business ethics literature regularly examines obligations
of firms. This article examines the contrary and relatively
under-explored notion of obligations of stakeholders. It
does so by discussing incidents of sexual misconduct arising
under the umbrella of the #MeToo movement. This article
explores how the theory of stakeholder responsibility can
aid firms in understanding and addressing complex issues
associated with stakeholder irresponsibility. It examines the
moral responsibilities of regime members in the context of
#MeToo incidents to provide a conceptual framework for
firms addressing issues associated with irresponsible stake-
holder actions.
irresponsible stakeholder, sexual misconduct, stakeholder responsiblities,
stakeholder theory, #MeToo movement
Theories of stakeholder responsibility are about what we owe to each other in business contexts
(Elms, 2006; Elms & Phillips, 2009; Fassin, 2012; Freeman, Harrison, Wicks, Parmar, & Colle, 2010;
Goodstein & Wicks, 2007; Windsor, 2002). In many instances, what we owe each other in business
contexts is not so different than what we owe each other in non-business contexts. Even sparing a
precise definition of sexual misconduct, few would disagree that whether one is associated with a firm
or not, one should not engage in sexual misconduct. Yet, when one is associated with a firm and does
engage in sexual misconduct, the others who are also associated with that firm are placed in a precar-
ious position whereby they individually or collectively may be harmed by the irresponsible actions
of that stakeholder. A salient distinguishing feature of #MeToo incidents is that they involve a dis-
proportionate power relationship between the accused and the victim—an imbalance that arises from
society and its institutions, including firms. When misconduct occurs, it impacts not only the victim
but also other stakeholders and the firm in myriad ways that the irresponsible stakeholder doubtfully
considered when engaging in misconduct. Among the impacted stakeholders, the shareholders, fans
of the show, employees, managers, other companies that sponsor the accused, the #MeToo movement,
the television industry, and governmental agencies are all affected by one instance of sexual miscon-
duct. The responsibilities of each of these stakeholders, upon the occurrence of a #MeToo incident,
are identified and developed in this article.
Firms and stakeholders conduct business within what Goodstein and Wicks (2007) refer to as
a “regime of responsibility.” A regime of responsibility (aka, a “regime”) is “that system of shared
norms, understandings, and practices…formal and informal ways that networks of individuals work
together (both within and across organizations) to get things done and avoid ethical breakdowns”
(Goodstein & Wicks, 2007, p. 380). While some aspects of what we owe each other remain constant
within and outside a regime, one’s membership in a regime gives rise to additional responsibilities to
those within that regime. While one should not engage in sexual misconduct even if not a part of a re-
gime, being a part of a regime gives one additional reason not to engage in sexual misconduct. When
misconduct occurs in regime contexts, not only the victim is harmed but also other members of that
regime. Regimes may be broad or narrow and may contain characteristics that are explicit or implicit.
This article explores how #MeToo incidents impact the responsibilities of members of the associated
regime, including the firm and its stakeholders.
Phillips (2003) explains how obligations of fairness arise within regimes of responsibility, or what
he calls “cooperative schemes.” His principle of stakeholder fairness holds that
Whenever persons or groups of persons voluntarily accept the benefits of a mutually
beneficial scheme of co-operation requiring sacrifice or contribution on the parts of
the participants and there exists the possibility of free-riding, obligations of fairness are
created among the participants in the co-operative scheme in proportion to the benefits
accepted. (p. 92)
The principle of stakeholder fairness emphasizes the voluntariness of participating in a cooperative
regime, the reciprocal responsibilities of those involved in that regime, and how being a member of
a regime gives rise to additional responsibilities of those involved. Per Phillips (2003), obligations
to stakeholders “do not replace, but are in addition to the duties that existed prior to organizational
scheme of cooperation” (p. 163). The reverse is also true, stakeholder responsibilities are in addition
to the duties those stakeholders owe when not a member of a regime of responsibility. While one
should be fair even when outside a regime of responsibility, one’s membership in a regime gives rise
to additional reasons to ensure fairness to the other members of that regime.

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