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Ethical performance evaluation: an extension and illustration

Stephen Graham Saunders (Department of Marketing, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 18 October 2011




The purpose of this paper is to evaluate over time the ethical performance of a multinational foods company – Nestlé – operating in a highly dynamic, complex, and often ambiguous environment in a crisis torn Zimbabwe.


The case study applies an ethical performance evaluation (EPE) managerial framework to evaluate the actions of Nestlé Zimbabwe at various critical decision‐making time periods.


While consumer pressure groups and international rights activists in Europe condemned Nestlé's actions in Zimbabwe as unethical and unacceptable, this research found that by exploring the events over time (i.e. longitudinal research) as the context of the event (crisis in Zimbabwe) evolved, it was shown that Nestlé faced a major ethical dilemma; and may have acted ethically and indeed acceptably given the unfolding crisis in Zimbabwe.

Research limitations/implications

An EPE managerial framework is a useful tool to provide insight and knowledge of a particular event, however using the framework will not determine what is ethical or not. Evaluating ethical performance is always a value judgement and therefore the framework only offers insight and knowledge into the events over time, allowing the researcher or manager the opportunity to draw better, more informed, ethical decisions.

Practical implications

The case study provides an illustration of a dynamic approach that can be used by business managers to assess the ethical performance of a company.


The paper proposes that an ethical performance of a company needs to be evaluated over time as the context of the events evolves. The EPE managerial framework is adapted to emphasize the importance of evaluating the time and context parameters.



Graham Saunders, S. (2011), "Ethical performance evaluation: an extension and illustration", European Business Review, Vol. 23 No. 6, pp. 561-571.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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