All in the mind? Ethical identity and the allure of corporate responsibility

Max Baker, John Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


This paper develops a critique of the concept of ‘ethical identity’ as this has been used recently to distinguish between ‘cynical’ and ‘authentic’ forms of corporate responsibility. Taking as our starting point Levinas’ demanding view of responsibility as ‘following the assignation of responsibility for my neighbour’, we use a case study of a packaging company—PackCo—to argue that a concern with being seen and/or seeing oneself as responsible should not be confused with actual responsibility. Our analysis of the case points first to the allure of programmes of strategic corporate responsibility and the ways in which, through identification, they can provide a tacit form of moral sanction to managers in their aggressive pursuit of profit. It then contrasts the responses of different managers to negative staff feedback to illustrate the difference between managers’ attempts to defend their identity of being ‘responsible’ managers, and responsible conduct itself. The paper concludes that a potent danger of programmes of corporate responsibility is that they allow managers to deceive not just others, but also themselves in relation to the exercise of responsibility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-15
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number1 Supplement
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • ethical identity
  • corporate responsibility
  • economic growth
  • quality of life research


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