Introduction to the special issue on ethics, social responsibility and sustainability

José Gonçalves das Neves (Business Research Centre (BRU-IUL), Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Lisbon, Portugal)
Eduardo Simões (Business Research Centre (BRU-IUL), Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Lisbon, Portugal)
Ana Patrícia Duarte (Business Research Unit/BRU-IUL, Instituto Universitário de Lisboa/ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon, Portugal)

Management Research

ISSN: 1536-5433

Article publication date: 17 November 2014


Gonçalves das Neves, J., Simões, E. and Duarte, A.P. (2014), "Introduction to the special issue on ethics, social responsibility and sustainability", Management Research, Vol. 12 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Introduction to the special issue on ethics, social responsibility and sustainability

Article Type: Editorial From: Management Research: The Journal of the Iberoamerican Academy of Management, Volume 12, Issue 3

In recent years, numerous scandals at financial institutions and companies, revealed an apparently previously unnoticed trend to frequent failures in ethical behavior within organizational activities. The analysis of those events has renewed scholars’ interest in the ethical problems in organizations, following two essential and complementary routes: one aims to understand how individuals make decisions on ethically dubious issues; another one is intended to grasp the antecedents and consequents of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability practices, namely, their influence on the ethicality of the organizational actors’ behaviors and decisions.

Due to the relative consensus about its positive contribution to society, issues of CSR, ethics and sustainability are receiving increasing attention from scholars and practitioners, both in terms of application and research (Aguinis and Glavas, 2012; Carroll and Shabana, 2010; Duarte et al., 2010; Trevino and Nelson, 2004). However, particularly in the social sciences, no desideratum of scientific research is oblivious to the vicissitudes of the historical moment in which it arises. In the case of CSR, the times we live confront us with new problems that challenge previous assumptions about the effects of adoption of organizational guidance in this domain (Waddock, 2008). In fact, different, and often seemingly contradictory practices lead to question CSR underlying principles and rationale. For instance, value sharing among stakeholders, which is viewed as a natural output of socially responsible economic activity benefiting society in general, is sometimes contradicted by an increase in social inequalities and asymmetries. Companies that claim to be socially responsible are carrying out delocalization and outsourcing strategies, which entail considerable social and environmental costs. Economic and financial criteria seem to be the only drivers of those delocalization decisions which often imply the imposition of hard and barely legal business conditions for local suppliers, and hurt environmental and economic sustainability, with serious repercussions on quality of human life. These findings suggest that some public uses of CSR issues are, in fact, a camouflage to cover up bad management practices. And we suspect that these kinds of actions are more probable in an uncertain and turbulent environment, in which the complexities of ethical decision-making processes are amplified.

Are those bad practices a side effect of the current scenario of economic uncertainty, in which many organizations are struggling for reducing costs to stay competitive? Or the corporate engagement in internal and external social responsibility is somewhat independent of the economic context? There are mixed evidences, thus insufficient to give a cabal answer, but the organizational propensity to adopt a proactive role in social and environmental sustainability development domains, i.e. the organizations’ commitment to activities of social responsibility, seems to be changeable and contingent on contextual factors (Aguinis, 2011; Devinney, 2009), although more research is needed to clarify the causal links involved.

In alignment with these research orientations, and following the steps of its first edition in 2011, the second Symposium on Ethics and Social Responsibility Research – 2013 ( was intended to promote a dialog between the research lines, which converge in the quest for scientific understanding of the current challenges in the CSR and sustainability domains, emphasizing also the complexities of individual ethical decision-making processes in organizational settings. The 2013 Symposium’s best papers are at the core of the current issue of Management Research: The Journal of the Iberoamerican Academy of Management (MRJIAM).

In this MRJIAM issue, the two first articles deal with the context – CSR double link, or more specifically, authors inquire the way organizations’ social environment shape CSR and, conversely, they ask how CSR practices may impact the society as a whole, or at least, the immediate social environment.

Acknowledging the influence of contextual factors on the organizational engagement on sustainable, ethical and/or socially responsible practices, which seem to be of high importance, particularly in the prevention of misconduct in organizations, it is possible to explore a reverse link: how does CSR practices impacts organizational social environment? In the first article, Santos presents a theoretical contribution toward rethinking CSR to attain higher levels of global sustainability, regarding the integrated development of regions and territories, thus re-focusing the way in which CSR has been conceived and implemented. Specifically, her analysis suggests that companies’ CSR activities without any alignment with the surrounding community tend to be nearly infertile in social and/or in environmental sustainability terms, since those initiatives have only a limited impact. Within this framework, the author proposes to assess the potential interest of two distinct theoretical contributions: the construct of social responsibility clusters and the idea of territorial social responsibility for competitiveness and sustainable development.

In a distinct vein, but also underlining the links between CSR practices and the social context of business organizations, a theoretical reflection from Mofuoa is focused on Ubuntu-Botho African ethics, a kind of moral theory, which is reflected on public policy and which underlies an informal education model for the citizenship. The author compares this kind of public ethics with the stakeholders’ role and importance in CSR theory, and suggests that the more socially embedded business organizations are in their community, the more salient and enlightened the justification for stakeholder importance in CSR will be.

In the third article, Gallardo-Vázquez, Sánchez-Hernández and Castilla-Polo address CSR in cooperatives. Assuming CSR as a source of competitive advantage for cooperative organizations, the authors establish a theoretical and methodological framework for undertaking a qualitative validation of an explanatory model of the implementation of social responsibility in cooperatives, detailing the relevant constructs of the model and the corresponding measures.

Then, Duarte, Gomes and Neves present and discuss the results of an empirical study on the impact of different CSR dimensions on the organizational capacity to attract talents for a job. The authors analyze prospective applicant’s responses with the aim to evaluate the impact of perceived CSR practices on organizational attractiveness and intention to apply for a job offer. Results indicate that CSR can be an important predictor of job choices: prospective applicants seem to feel more attracted and willing to apply for a job vacancy in companies that they consider to be more socially responsible.

The last article, by Eswarlal and Vallesi, is a contribution both to theoretical development and ideas generation on corporate sustainability. The authors propose a visual metaphor to emphasize the different stages of business sustainability concept (designable, feasible, endurable and responsible) and encourage a new way of looking at the decision-making process for a sustainable system. Although there are some important limitations in the use of metaphorical thought in efforts to cultivate theory’s advancement, this approach can stimulate practitioners and academics to identify sustainability system variables and measures.


Aguinis, H. (2011), “Organizational responsibility: doing good and doing well”, in Zedeck, S. (Ed), APA Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 3, pp. 855-879, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

Aguinis, H. and Glavas, A. (2012), “What we know and don’t know about corporate social responsibility: a review and research agenda”, Journal of Management, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 932-968.

Carroll, A. and Shabana, K. (2010), “The business case for corporate social responsibility: a review of concepts, research and practice”, International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 85-105.

Devinney, T. (2009), “Is the socially responsible corporation a myth? The good, the bad, and the ugly of corporate social”, Academy of Management Perspectives, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 44-56.

Duarte, A.P. Mouro, C. and Neves, J. (2010), “Corporate social responsibility: mapping its social meaning”, Management Research: The Journal of the Iberoamerican Academy of Management, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 101-122.

Trevino, L. and Nelson, K. (2004), Managing Business Ethics, 3rd ed., John Wiley and Sons Publishers, New York, NY.

Waddock, S. (2008), “Building a new institutional infrastructure for corporate responsibility”, Academy of Management Perspectives, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 87-108.

About the authors

José Gonçalves das Neves is an Associate Professor of Human Resources and Organizational Behavior at the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Lisbon, Portugal. He received his PhD in Social and Organizational Psychology, with a specialization in Organizational Behavior from ISCTE-IUL (1996). He lectures on several themes of Social and Organizational Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, including organizational culture, quality and CSR. He is a researcher at the Business Research Unit (BRU-IUL), being climate and organizational culture, human resource management, CSR, work and well-being and quality of service his primary research interests. His research has been published in numerous journals, including Advances in Psychology Study, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Management Research: The Journal of the Iberoamerican Academy of Management, Personnel Review, Psychology, Psicologia: Teoria, Investigação e Prática, Revista de Psicologia Militar, Revista Portuguesa e Brasileira de Gestão and Psychologica. José Gonçalves das Neves is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:

Eduardo Simões is an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon, Portugal. He holds a PhD in Social and Organizational Psychology. His main research interests include ethical decision-making in organizations both at the individual and group level. As an organizational consultant and trainer, he has taught decision-making and negotiation skills to a wide variety of executives and managers in the past 20 years. He is the author of several books and chapters in national and international edited books. The results of his research have been published in scientific journals such as Psicologia, and Psychologica.

Ana Patrícia Duarte is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Business Research Unit-IUL, Lisbon, Portugal. She has received her PhD in Social and Organizational Psychology, with a specialization in Organizational Behavior, from ISCTE-IUL (2011). Her research focuses broadly on organizational behavior and CSR, and includes topics such as the impact of CSR practices on employees’ attitudes and behaviors (e.g. organizational commitment, job satisfaction, individual performance and organizational citizenship behaviors). Her research has been published in Management Research: The Journal of the Iberoamerican Academy of Management, Psicologia and Psychologica.