Area of Expertise
- Historical Corporate Responsibility
- Network Ethics
- Theory of the Firm
- Value Chain Responsibility
Robert Phillips is George R. Gardiner Professor in Business Ethics and Professor of Sustainability at the York University’s Schulich School of Business. His PhD is from the University of Virginia’s Darden School. Prior to Schulich he held positions at the University of Richmond, University of San Diego, The Wharton School, and Georgetown University. He was also the Gourlay Professor of Ethics in Business, at Trinity College, University of Melbourne and visiting professor at LM Thapar School of Management (Punjab) and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (Shanghai).
His work has appeared in Business Ethics Quarterly, Strategic Management Journal, and the Academy of Management Review among others. He is the author of Stakeholder Theory and Organizational Ethics (2003). His other research interests include, stakeholder theory, historic corporate responsibility, and ethics in network organizations.
He has served as Consulting Editor at Journal of Business Ethics and Associate Editor at Business & Society. He has held leadership positions in the Academy of Management, the Strategic Management Society, the International Association for Business and Society and is past president of the Society for Business Ethics. He is Director of the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business at Schulich.
Senior Fellow - Olsson Center for Applied Ethics, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
Master Teacher in Ethics - The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University
2016-17 Gourlay Professorship of Ethics in Business, Trinity College, University of Melbourne
2009-10 Robins School Scholarly Activity Award
Phillips, R.A., Schrempf-Stirling, J. and Stutz, C. (2020), "The Past, History, and Corporate Social Responsibility", Journal of Business Ethics, 166, 203–213.Keywords
An emerging body of research recognizes the importance of the past and history for corporate social responsibility (CSR) scholarship and practice. However, the meanings that scholars and practitioners can ascribe to the past and history difer fundamentally, posing challenges to the integration of history and CSR thinking. This essay reviews diverse approaches and proposes a broad conceptualization of the relationship between the past, history, and CSR. We suggest historical CSR as an umbrella term that comprises three distinct theoretical perspectives. The “past-of-CSR” perspective is concerned with the history of CSR and business ethics as a set of concepts and practices. The “past-in-CSR” perspective involves employing empirical historical research to substantiate and elaborate CSR concepts and theories. Finally, the “past-as-CSR” perspective seeks to understand the past as a living, yet contested, facet of current organizations, infuencing contemporary perceptions of corporate and managerial responsibility. We then elaborate on conceptual issues and paths that may prove useful for future research. In all, this essay and the thematic symposium it precedes strive to deepen and broaden the salience of the past and history for thinking about business ethics and business responsibilities.
Freeman, R.E., Phillips, R.A. and Sisodia, R. (2020), "Tensions in Stakeholder Theory", Business & Society, 59(2), 213-31.
A number of tensions have been suggested between stakeholder theory and strategic management (SM). Following a brief review of the histories of stakeholder theory and mainstream SM, we argue that many of the tensions are more apparent than real, representing different narratives about stakeholder theory, SM, business, and ethics. Part of the difference in these two theoretical positions is due to the fact that they seek to solve different problems. However, we suggest how there are areas of overlap, and we argue that some of the tensions may, instead, provide interesting ways to put the two areas of scholarship and practice together. We maintain that SM and stakeholder theory could mutually benefit from a more pragmatist philosophy.
Arora, B., Kourula, A. and Phillips, R. (2020), "Emerging Paradigms of Corporate Social Responsibility, Regulation, and Governance: Introduction to the Thematic Symposium", Journal of Business Ethics, 162(2), 265-268.
Palazzo, G., Phillips, R.A. and Schrempf-Stirling, J. (2016), "Historic Corporate Social Responsibility", Academy of Management Review, 41(4), 700-719.Keywords
Corporations are increasingly held responsible for activities up and down their value chains but outside their traditional corporate boundaries. Recently, a similar wave of criticism has arisen about corporate activities of the past, overseen by prior generations of managers. Yet there is little or no scholarly theorizing about the ways contemporary managers engage with these critiques or how this corporate engagement with the past affects the legitimacy of current business. Extending theorizing about political corporate social responsibility and organizational legitimacy, we address this omission by asking the following: (1) What is the theoretical basis for holding a corporation responsible for decisions made by prior generations of managers? (2) What is the process by which such claims are raised and contested? (3) What are the relevant features that render a charge of historical harm-doing more or less legitimate in the current context? (4) How will a corporation’s response to such charges affect the intensity of the future narrative contests and the corporation’s own legitimacy?
Bosse, D.A. and Phillips, R.A. (2016), "Agency Theory and Bounded Self Interest", Academy of Management Review, 41(2), 276-297.Keywords
Agency theory draws attention to certain behaviors of CEOs and boards that, in aggregate, create losses for society. The empirical literature, however, characterized by contentious findings, suggests that the current form of agency theory is not supporting a clear understanding of these behaviors and their costs. We propose a change to one assumption, with potentially profound implications. Expanding on the assumption of narrow self-interest underlying agency theory, we apply an empirically well-established refinement that self-interest is bounded by norms of reciprocity and fairness. The resulting logic is that perceptions of fairness mediate the relationships derived from standard agency theory through positively and negatively reciprocal behaviors. This mediating variable provides a parsimonious new way to help explain extreme results found in prior studies. Rather than aiming to limit CEOs’ self-serving behaviors, boards that apply these arguments improve social welfare by initiating positive reciprocity and avoiding unnecessary, welfare-reducing “revenge” behaviors.
Agle, B.R., Donaldson, Godfrey, P.C., T., Harris, J.D., Harrison, J.S., Ingerson, M.C., Keevil, A., Mitchell, R.K. and Phillips, R.A. (2015), "Normative Stakeholder Capitalism: Getting from Here to There", Business and Professional Ethics Journal, 34(3), 377-406.
Dmytriyev, S.S., Freeman, R.E. and Phillips, R.A. (forthcoming) , "Stakeholder Theory and the Resource-Based View of the Firm", Journal of Management.Keywords
We start this article with the exploration of similarities between the resource-based view of the firm (RBV) and stakeholder theory at the time of their origination and then proceed with the conversation on what led to distinct developmental trajectories of the two theories. Though RBV has become a leading paradigm in the strategic management field, we argue that in its current form, RBV is yet incomplete. We suggest there are four aspects that stakeholder theory can offer to inform RBV: normativity, sustainability, people, and cooperation. Reconciling stakeholder theory and RBV is a promising path to advancing our understanding of management, and we provide a two-part guideline to management scholars and practitioners who would be willing to take this path.
Martin, K.E. and Philips, R.A. (forthcoming) , "Stakeholder Friction", Journal of Business Ethics.
A mainstay of stakeholder management is the belief that firms create value when they invest more time, money, and attention to stakeholders than is necessary for the immediate transaction. This tendency to repeat interactions with the same set of stakeholders fosters what we call stakeholder friction. Stakeholder friction is a term for the collection of social, legal, and economic forces leading firms to prioritize and reinvest in current stakeholders. For many stakeholder scholars, such friction is close to universally beneficial, but the associated costs—to both the firm and legitimate stakeholders—have been underspecified. Failure to account for the effects of stakeholder friction can cause managers to under-allocate attention and value to some legitimate stakeholders and to over-allocate attention and value to current stakeholders. We examine the concept of stakeholder friction and elaborate on three exemplar sources of friction prominent in the stakeholder literature. This is followed by an analysis of investments in stakeholder relationships and a consideration of the implications of stakeholder friction on the ability of firms to prioritize stakeholders. The tendency to reinvest in current stakeholders has, in addition to the oft-discussed benefits, a predictable downside.