The purpose of this paper is to analyze how social power and pressures over the past century have shifted the audience towards which organizations find themselves accountable, as reflected in their social responsibility reporting.
The authors use historical analysis to analyze qualitatively the annual reports of prominent US organizations between the 1900s to the early 2000s. Adopting an integrationist perspective, the authors ground their research in stakeholder theory and reviewed passages in annual reports identifying the audiences of socially responsible organizational initiatives.
The study revealed that the degree and focus of corporate accountability shifted over the course of the 1900s, and that this change was due to shifts in influence and power stemming from different stakeholders. During the early 1900s, organizations were more concerned with pleasing internal stakeholders (i.e. employees); however, economic and social events shifted this attention towards external stakeholder groups (i.e. the environment) during the latter part of the century. More recent events fueled social pressures, resulting in legislation and social reporting guidelines during the first decade of the twenty‐first century.
Organizations will continue to be held accountable as new stakeholder groups emerge and different social movements and economic changes transpire, exerting more pressure on organizations to be socially responsible. Furthermore, organizations need to remain current on social reporting guidelines, as these increasingly become the means of communication with multiple stakeholder groups. In summary, findings suggest that organizations would benefit by staying abreast of economic and social cues when developing their socially responsible initiatives and reporting.
The unique contribution of this paper is to identify how economic and social events place pressure on organizations and shift organizational attention through an accountability mechanism, resulting in changes in the focus of social responsibility reporting.
Morf, D., Flesher, D., Hayek, M., Pane, S. and Hayek, C. (2013), "Shifts in corporate accountability reflected in socially responsible reporting: a historical review", Journal of Management History, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 87-113. https://doi.org/10.1108/17511341311286213Download as .RIS
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