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Social disclosure, legitimacy theory and the role of the State

Archel, Pablo and Husillos, Javier and Larrinaga, Carlos and Spence, Crawford (2009) Social disclosure, legitimacy theory and the role of the State. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 22 (8). pp. 1284-1307. ISSN 0951-3574

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The principal objective of this paper is to expand the scope of legitimacy theory (LT) through a detailed analysis of the links that exist between the legitimising strategies of firms and the characteristics of the political environment in which they are developed. A discourse analysis was performed on the social and environmental disclosure (SED) of a multinational in the automotive sector with an established presence in Spain, in the context of the relational dynamics between the firm/society/state. Different channels of information were compared to capture both the official discourse as represented in the annual reports of the multinational and the discourse of employees and the State as represented in the media. The results of the research show that the firm under study used SED strategically to legitimise a new production process through the manipulation of social perceptions, and that this strategy was supported implicitly and explicitly through ideological alignment with the State. Despite a widely-held assumption of a pluralist political context, the State is presented here as aligning itself with corporate management as opposed to the welfare concerns of employees. Thus, future research calling for regulation of SED should preface such calls with consideration of the orientation of the State. In contrast with the dominant approach to LT that considers the relationship of the firm with its stakeholders, the present study widens the scope of LT to consider the interplay between firm legitimating strategies and state support for such strategies.