Business Ethics 19 (4):379-392 (2010)
The ethical behaviour and social responsibility of private companies, and in particular large corporations, is an important area of enquiry in contemporary social, economic and political thinking. In the past, a company's behaviour would be considered responsible as long as it stayed within the law of the society in which it operated or existed. Although this may be necessary, it is no longer sufficient. In this paper, we examine an energy company's response to an ethical incident in New Zealand which prompted different responses across the country about the role of business in society. Thus, we argue that when a corporation is accused of unethical behaviour, executives of the company are usually compelled to offer responses to defend their actions and corporate image. Further, we use communicative response model, social issue life cycle theory, and organisational learning, to analyse the incident and how the company responded. Using social issues life cycle theory and organisational learning theory, we demonstrate that sustained pressure can potentially trigger a change of strategy that may serve to improve the ethical posture of a corporation and thereby improve the corporate image long term. We conclude that, although corporations may understand the significance of social issues to the performance and success of their business, this same understanding does not always translate into meaningful social action
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