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Moral accounting? Employee disclosures from a stakeholder accountability perspective

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to examine how disclosure of employee issues by a large UK bank may or may not promote transparency and accountability (as assessed by the completeness of the account) toward the employee stakeholder group, and to shed light on the implications of the organisation-society relationship for employee accountability. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The intrinsic stakeholder framework forms the basis of the qualitative, longitudinal analysis. It is adopted as the moral ground for the provision of a "complete" account of employee issues. In seeking to shed light on the organisation-society relationship and its implications for reporting on employee issues the authors build a broader theoretical framework incorporating various social and political theories dealing with legitimacy, political economy, and language and rhetoric. Interpretive and critical approaches are employed. The analysis draws on an extensive review of published materials relating to employment in the UK retail banking industry and NatWest in particular, impacts of workplace changes occurring in the banking sector, and to the economic, social and political environment over the period of the study. Findings ‐ The findings indicate that what and how NatWest reported on employee issues was influenced by considerations other than transparency and employee accountability. The analysis highlights the complexity of the role of disclosures in the organisation-society relationship and consequently the limitations of the use of a single theoretical framework to interpret disclosures. Research limitations/implications ‐ The longitudinal analysis indicates how reporting practices are issue and context dependent and points to the limitations of theorising in corporate social reporting based on a single time frame and a limited analysis of the reported issues. Practical implications ‐ In highlighting a lack of accountability to employees, the findings have implications for the development of reporting standards on issues relevant to employees. Over time, it is hoped that development of an employee inclusive reporting framework, along with exposure of the contradictory role that reports may play in promoting accountability, will contribute toward improved employee management practices. Originality/value ‐ This study contributes to the corporate social reporting literature by extending the analysis beyond the firm focused stakeholder management perspective to considering disclosures from a moral perspective and the extent to which the complex organisation-society relationship might work against the promotion of transparency and accountability toward stakeholders (specifically employees). In this way, through an in-depth longitudinal analysis of disclosures from multiple perspectives, the paper contributes to theorising of the role of social disclosure in the organisation-society relationship.
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Keywords: Banking; Employee disclosures; Legitimacy; Political economy; Rhetoric; Stakeholder accountability; Stakeholders; United Kingdom

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2013-03-22

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