Revisit: Hypocrisy


In Corporate and Individual Social Responsibility: Causes, Consequences and Implications, Special issue of Journal of Business Research; Deadline 15 Feb 2018

Hypocrisy in Corporate and Individual Social Responsibility: Causes, Consequences and Implications

Co-editors: Paolo Antonetti, Frances Bowen and Danae Manika, Queen Mary University of London, UK; Colin Higgins, RMIT University, Australia.

Corporate social responsibility has become a widespread and powerful idea both in research and in practice (Aguinis and Glavas, 2012; Lynn, 2015). However, a chronic wave of corporate scandals in the past decade, including the recent emissions scandal at previously CSR-leading Volkswagen (Dans, 2015), has threatened the development and maintenance of society’s trust in businesses. As a result corporate hypocrisy, the discrepancy between a firm’s CSR behaviour and its stated standards of CSR (Wagner, Lutz, and Weitz, 2009), has received significant attention in recent popular press and academic literature. Academic scholars for example have investigated greenwashing (Bowen, 2014; Delmas & Burbano, 2011) and tax avoidance (Hardeck & Hertl, 2014) as forms of corporate hypocrisy. Research is also increasingly focusing on corporate social irresponsibility (Murphy & Schlegelmilch, 2013) and on how corporations manage perceived crises (Lange & Washburn, 2012; Sweetin et al., 2012) and market failures (Herzig & Moon, 2013). Attributions and judgements of hypocrisy are relevant in all these cases and will become even more significant in the future given the increasingly transparent and accountable world we live in.

At the same time, this greater need for authentic and sincere CSR has also resulted in a push for individual social responsibility (ISR) (Benabou and Tirole, 2010). A corporation after all is comprised of individuals who constitute its culture. Examples of ISR include various pro-social behaviours, such as charity donations and consumption of green products. However, these behaviours are not always a result of intrinsic altruism, often being undertaken to signal conformity to social pressure (DellaVigna, List & Malmendier, 2012) or to appear generous (Ellingsen & Johannesson, 2011). Similarly, consumers often claim to be willing to support companies that invest in CSR and sustainability, but in reality research shows that they rarely do (Auger & Devinney, 2007; Carrington et al., 2014). Therefore, hypocrisy seems to be a constitutive element of both individual and corporate behaviour and a critical phenomenon of the interplay between business and society. Indeed some have argued that hypocrisy might be a prescriptive component for modern business (Batson et al., 2006).

Past research has generated a number of insights on hypocrisy in different contexts. For example, there is research on the difference between corporate talk and action in organizations (e.g. Brunsson, 1989; Cho et al., 2015), perceived leader hypocrisy (e.g. Greenbaum et al., 2015; Foote, 2001), hypocrisy in corporate communications and branding (e.g. Fassin & Buelen, 2011; Vveinhardt & Stonkute, 2015), specific instances of hypocrisy (e.g. Sikka, 2010), the management of consumers’ perception of corporate hypocrisy (e.g. Wagner et al., 2009), hypocrisy in individual morally-salient decisions (e.g. Thomas et al., 2014), and the study of normative ethical questions around the legitimacy of hypocrisy (e.g. Watson & Sheikh, 2008). Critical theorists, particularly critical accountants, have illustrated how communication can be used strategically by companies to construct discourses that shape responsibility in specific ways (Milne, Tregidga, & Walton, 2009; Higgins & Walker, 2012).

The diversity of approaches and research traditions offers a fragmented picture on what we mean by hypocrisy, what are the factors that lead to individual and organizational hypocrisy and how hypocrisy affects both (internal) organizational processes and (external) stakeholders’ perceptions of the company.

This special issue aims to contribute to the investigation of hypocrisy in corporate and individual social responsibility, and explore its causes, consequences and implications for business and society. It will extend and enrich existing debates while offering a forum that brings together empirical research, theoretical perspectives and practical insights on hypocrisy from different disciplines (e.g. management, marketing, accounting, sociology, psychology and economics) to shed new light on this phenomenon.

Relevant research questions for the special issue that may provide inspiration and an indicative guide for authors include:

  • Moral hypocrisy: To what extent is hypocrisy morally justifiable? How do organizations and individuals morally balance legitimate self-interest and commitments to the common good? What are the ethics of hypocrisy and how do they affect individual and organizational choices?
  • Organizational hypocrisy: What forms might organisational hypocrisy take? What are the organizational determinants of hypocrisy? How is corporate hypocrisy justified internally and externally? What are the consequences of hypocrisy for organizational behaviour and outcomes?
  • Individual hypocrisy: What are the causes of individual hypocrisy in consumers or employees? What are its behavioural implications? How might particular behavioural interventions reduce hypocrisy in individuals?
  • Meso-hypocrisy: How might hypocrisy in corporate discourses or actions affect individual employees within the organisation? How does hypocrisy at one organisational level of analysis interact with other levels? To what extent can hypocrisy be identified in particular organisational locations over time?
  • Hypocrisy and stakeholders: What types of behaviour are perceived as potentially hypocritical? How are perceptions of hypocrisy formed? How do stakeholders react to corporate hypocrisy? How do managers and/or individuals manage the reputational loss following a case of perceived hypocrisy, and how might trust be regained?
  • Governance and hypocrisy: How can companies try to avoid hypocrisy? When might conventional regulatory solutions such as reporting requirements, mandatory sustainability reporting or fair claims guidance increase or reduce hypocrisy?
  • Discourse and hypocrisy: What discursive tactics are used to excuse or mask hypocrisy? Do companies use discourse to de-legitimise critics of hypocrisy? To what extent do companies (or company spokespeople) construct particular identities or understandings about CSR activity that eliminates or disguises hypocrisy through CSR communications? What subject positions and social relations are assumed in charges of hypocrisy?

Paper Development Workshop in London, UK

A paper development workshop to support the development of a community of researchers on hypocrisy will be held in London, UK. The workshop will be designed with the aim of developing the best papers for submission to this special issue, but participation in the workshop will not be a pre-condition for submission to the special issue. An interdisciplinary panel of distinguished keynote discussants (Professors Charles Cho, Laura Spence and Tillman Wagner) will provide feedback to participants together with the editors of the special issue. To be considered for the workshop authors will need to submit a 3,000 words paper. The workshop will be hosted by the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London.

Submission Process

Authors interested in participating in the paper development workshop should submit their 3,000 words manuscripts via email to by February 15, 2018. The deadline for manuscripts for the special issue is August 30, 2018 submission. It is not necessary to attend the workshop to submit to the special issue. All manuscripts must be original, and should not have been previously published or currently under consideration by other journals. All manuscripts considered for the special issue will need to be submitted through the online EES portal. The SI editors may be contacted at: Paolo Antonetti; Frances Bowen; Danae Manika; Colin Higgins


  • February 15, 2018 Deadline for submissions for the paper development workshop (3,000 words paper)
  • March 15, 2018 Notifications of acceptance for the paper development workshop
  • June 4-5, 2018 Workshop to be held in London, UK
  • August 30, 2018 Deadline for submissions to the Special Issue


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