Trust, reputation and corporate accountability to stakeholders

Business Ethics, the Environment and Responsibility 10 (1):16–26 (2001)
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This paper explores the relationship between accountability, trust and corporate reputation building. Increasing numbers of corporations are mobilising themselves to put more and more information out into the public domain as a way of communicating with stakeholders. Corporate social accounting and stakeholder engagement is happening on an unprecedented scale. Rather than welcoming such initiatives, academics have been quick to pick faults with contemporary social auditing and reporting, claiming that in its current form it is not about demonstrating accountability at all, but rather about building corporate reputation. Academics argue that ‘accountability should hurt’, that if accountability is an enjoyable process, then the organisation isn’t doing it right. For organisations that are currently engaging with stakeholders and ostensibly becoming more transparent about their corporate social performance, this kind of critique is likely to be bewildering. This paper argues that central to the notion of accountability and to contemporary social accounting practice is the concept of trust. Accountability is based upon a distrust of corporate management, whereas corporate reputation building is about strategically seeking to establish trust in stakeholder relationships in order to negate formal accountability requirements. Using a split trust continuum, the paper seeks to explain and synthesise what seem to be two very different paradigms of organisational transparency



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