Mapping debates in this way is useful because previous studies within each of the management traditions have tended to implicitly assume which aspect of moral legitimacy is most important based on the worldview of the analyst, rather than the details of the empirical context.
It identifies tensions between the pragmatic and moral legitimacy of ISR schemes, which the current ISR literature does not address, and draws implications for the future theory and practice of ISR.
Proponents have argued that ISR can achieve public policy objectives at lower cost than government regulation because regulatory decisions are made by those with the best information and expertise to make them (Coglianese and Mendelson ).
Despite theoretical and practical enthusiasm for ISR, questions remain about its legitimacy.
Mounting empirical evidence suggests that all too often industry-led schemes do not lead to positive social benefits or fix the problems that they are designed to solve (King et al. Recent scandals on mislabelled horsemeat in food supply chains, privacy in the self-regulated newspaper industry, and the fatal collapse of the BSCI-certified Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh have fed popular scepticism that ISR is tantamount to firms “marking their own homework”.
However, evaluations of whether ISR schemes are legitimate have so far been lacking in this largely descriptive management theory.
If legitimacy is considered at all, management theory usually focuses on ) framework and separates the pragmatic legitimacy of ISR based on self-interested calculations, from moral legitimacy based on normative approval.
However, as many teachers know, when done well, asking students to mark their own homework can not only be efficient from the teacher’s point of view, but also encourage students to learn from each other and to reflect on their own performance.
Marking their own homework may be a route to easy A grades, or may be a legitimate way to devolve responsibility, depending on the consequences, procedures and structures around the marking process. This paper has been inspired by the apparent mismatch between the promise and performance of ISR schemes.
In principle, ISR can serve the interests of participating companies, regulators and other stakeholders.
However, in practice, empirical evidence shows that ISR schemes often under-perform, leading to criticism that such schemes are tantamount to firms marking their own homework.