PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to discuss the corporate behavior of Volkswagen in its emissions scandal. It describes and analyzes a complex ethics dilemma within the purview of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate sustainability (CS) and examines how this dilemma impacts critical stakeholders, thus offering several “opportunities to learn” for professionals.Design/methodology/approachThe case takes a stakeholder perspective, applying Cavanagh et al. (1981) and Gao’s (2008) ethical judgement framework. It is situated within a qualitative approach to textual analysis. Social actors, topics and evaluative statements were identified and grouped into broader categories.FindingsSix major stakeholders were directly affected by Volkswagen’s behavior: customers, investors and shareholders, the US Environmental Protection Agency, German authorities, European institutions and society-at-large. Stakeholder concerns were condensed into three dominant themes: economic, legal and environmental. According to the ethical judgment framework, Volkswagen corporate behavior showed ethical problems, theoretically demonstrating that under no ethical principle was Volkswagen’s actions justifiable, even under instrumental justifications.Research limitations/implicationsThe analysis was primarily based on corporate material and news media reporting. Consequently, diverse managers’ prospectives and opinions are not entirely captured.Practical implicationsThis paper offers several “opportunities to learn” for corporate communication professionals.Originality/valueThe focus on stakeholder perspectives allows professionals to take an outside-in approach when evaluating the impact of corporate actions on stakeholders’ interests. The case analysis through Cavanagh et al. (1981) and Gao’s (2008) ethical judgment framework provides a practical theoretical instrument to assess corporate behaviors that can be used both as pre- and post-evaluations of corporate actions on CSR and CS issues.
Corporate Communications: An International Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: Oct 1, 2018
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