Signaling Virtue? A Comparison of Corporate Codes in the Fields of Labor and Environment

Guy Mundlak, Issi Rosen-Zvi


The creation of a "market for virtue" and social responsibility is dependent on the flow of information from the corporation to the responsible agents. To achieve a free flow of information, excessive, missing and unreliable information must be avoided. More generally, a market for virtue should make it possible to create the appropriate means to signal true commitments and enable informed agents to know how to effectively use their limited resources for deploying market power that rewards and sanctions the corporations that deserve such responses. The underlying assumption of this query is that if corporations in fact compete among themselves in the dimension of social responsibility, then some corporations will identify ways of demonstrating credibility of both efforts and results. The purpose of publishing codes of conduct and annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports would be to improve the level of information that is needed for the market for virtue to function. In order to assess the existence of a competitive market for virtue, the Article analyzes the codes and associated documents of sixteen multinational companies in three industries — textile, petrochemical and automobile. The Article finds some differences between labor and environmental norms, both within each of the sectors, as well as between sectors. However, the major finding casts doubt on the very assumption that labor and environmental norms are shaped by a market for virtue. Contrarily, the Article sheds new light on alternative reasons for developing social norms in corporations and rethinks the purpose of CSR reports.

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