Title: Ethical motivations for firms to prioritise stakeholder well-being during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic

Authors: Kevin Pan; Reginald J. Harris; Alan I. Blankley; David Hurtt

Addresses: Department of Economics, Finance and Quantitative Analysis, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, USA; Department of Economics, Finance and Quantitative Analysis, Brock School of Business, Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Dr., Birmingham, AL 35229, USA ' Department of Entrepreneurship, Management and Marketing, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, USA ' Department of Accounting, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, USA ' Department of Accounting, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA

Abstract: The initial onset of COVID-19 provides a unique setting to examine firms' behaviours related to corporate social responsibility (CSR). In this study, we investigate whether firms' prior self-declared commitment in CSR and the status of having published ESG scores would predict their prioritisation of stakeholder well-being, evidenced by voluntary disclosures related to COVID-19 and well-being. Consistent with previous literature, firms having published ESG scores appear more likely to act responsibly during a crisis. However, contrary to previous literature, firms' voluntary use of ethics related-terms in financial reports is not correlated with ESG status and is an independent predictor of firms filing more voluntary disclosures on well-being. Further, we found no evidence that firms prioritise well-being to avoid lawsuits. The findings contribute to the discussion in the literature on firms' ethical behaviours, suggesting that firms' own beliefs may play a more important role than lawsuit avoidance in a global crisis.

Keywords: ethics; corporate responsibility; financial disclosure; pandemic; COVID-19; welfare; text analysis; environmental; social and governance; ESG; corporate social responsibility; CSR.

DOI: 10.1504/IJSE.2023.131884

International Journal of Sustainable Economy, 2023 Vol.15 No.3, pp.325 - 345

Received: 01 Apr 2022
Accepted: 24 Jul 2022

Published online: 04 Jul 2023 *

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