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Kantian Capitalism and the Stakeholder Model: the necessity of a corporate ethics of justice

Pedro Francés Gómez


Stakeholder theory is the main-stream way of conceiving organizations, especially for profit corporations. Corporations are described as a web of stakeholders before whom managers have a multi-fiduciary responsibility. Edward Freeman, the father of stakeholder theory, holds that a normative theory of stakeholder management would set those fiduciary responsibilities as truly moral duties, due to the fact that stakeholders possess intrinsic, as opposed to merely instrumental, value. This article criticizes the basis of Freeman’s defense of normative stakeholder theory. The crucial critical argument is that Freeman employs the very same normative foundation that the classic theory of the firm uses; while deriving a view of the corporation that is less precise than the classic one. As an alternative, it is proposed that the organization should be conceived as a realm for justice: a social context of interaction where all parties would find it rational to agree to criteria for distributing the benefits so that cooperation –as required to bring about those benefits– is secured. This approach founds obligations (among stakeholders) without the need to resort to hypothesis as individual dignity or rights. However, the demands of justice might still be operationalized as rights of several kinds.


stakeholder theory, theory of justice, justice and corporations, business ethics

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