Last Updated 28 Mar 2021

Duties and Responsibilities of Stakeholders

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For managers, a scholarly theory that other stakeholders should have some duties— towards the firm, in particular—should be a pleasant relief. However, key lessons for managers are that responsibilities towards the firm require that managers first conduct themselves morally; and that other stakeholder responsibilities often involve moral and citizenship duties requiring collective action, for which business leadership may be crucial.

Mutual and joint responsibilities of stakeholders separate into four general categories: with the firm; among stakeholders themselves; common pool resources (especially nature); and the commonwealth. Stakeholder responsibilities are thus separable into those of interdependent actors, moral individuals and citizens. Interdependent responsibilities are arguably weaker than moral and citizenship responsibilities, and may amount only to benevolence in the stakeholder context absent those other responsibilities.

Stakeholdersuch of business ethics boils down to exhortation concerning proper managerial conduct, in various circumstances, or defences of managerial practices generally based on the economic development benefits of markets (see Wilson 1989). Thinking about ethics from a manager’s perspective is perhaps more difficult.

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To perceive, or propose, imbalance in the prevailing conceptualisation of business responsibilities. The idea is to establish the responsibilities of stakeholders other than managers and owners, including duties to the firm. There is substantial merit in the proposed thesis. Constructs such as corporate social responsibility, corporate social responsiveness, corporate social performance and global corporate citizenship all emphasise—as they were intended to do—the duties of and constraints on the motives (or goals) and conduct (or actions) of firms: i.e. the managers and owners of joint-stock public corporations or privately held companies.

In an effort to rebalance conceptualisation of responsibilities, this special issue considers the duties of and constraints on the motives and conduct of stakeholders (other than managers and owners, themselves stakeholders) defined in relationship to both the focal firm and other stakeholders of that firm. Stakeholders also have a collective impact on nature, and either collectively or in national groups joint responsibility for one or more commonwealths.

For managers, that other stakeholders should have some duties—towards the firm, in particular—should presumably be a pleasant relief from widespread assault, on various grounds, by business critics and calls for greater corporate responsibilities and global citizenship activities. This author suggests, however, that there are some key lessons for managers in the proposed reconsideration of stakeholders’ responsibilities. Responsibilities towards the firm will require that managers first conduct themselves morally, and existing notions of corporate responsibility and citizenship do not necessarily obtain that pattern of conduct.

Other stakeholder responsibilities often involve moral and citizenship duties requiring collective action, such that managers will often need to lead the way—as in child labour and environmental protection issues. The stakeholder role cannot be readily separated from general considerations of moral reflection and citizenship. A difficulty is that the stakeholder role must be considered by case and circumstance.

While responsibilities towards other stakeholders are arguably stronger than responsibilities to the firm (such that managers must demonstrate by moral conduct worthiness to be the object of such responsibilities by others), those responsibilities, while interdependent, often do not occur at first hand but rather often through a chain of distant repercussions. It is therefore an additional step, conceptually and practically, to add accountability for specific outcomes beyond simple notions duane windsor.

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