Journal of Business Ethics 118 (3):561-576 (2013)

Regulatory schema has shifted from government to governance-based systems. One particular form that has emerged at the international level is the multi-stakeholder voluntary code of conduct (MSVC). We argue that such codes are not only simply mechanisms by which various stakeholders attempt to govern the action of the corporation but also systems by which each stakeholder attempts to gain or retain some legitimacy goal. Each stakeholder is motivated by strategic legitimacy goal to join the code, and once a member, is also required to assist in maintaining the institutional legitimacy of the code, resulting in “networked legitimacy.” We begin our analysis of these systems by first exploring the growth and structure of such MSVCs, and then building an analytical framework using strategic and institutional legitimacy as they apply to such MSVCs. We contribute to the codes of conduct literature by developing the construct of networked legitimacy from strategic and institutional legitimacy. We then apply our framework to the United Nations Global Compact, one of the predominant MSVCs today. In doing so, we: (1) demonstrate how different stakeholders are pursuing different types of legitimacy through their participation in the code, (2) examine the specific opportunities and risks in terms of what we have called “networked legitimacy” posed by the institutional design of actual MSVCs, and (3) create an argument for three pillars supporting the legitimacy of MSVCs
Keywords Multi-stakeholder codes  Voluntary codes  United Nations Global Compact  Stakeholder legitimacy
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1605-y
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