Is Philanthropy Being Used by Corporate Wrongdoers to Buy Good Will?
Ethics and Business Law
Date of this version
Ethics, window dressing, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, governance
While an increasing number of philosophers and community activists argue in favor of corporate philanthropy, the practice is not without its critics. A number of firms that have restated suspect earnings also appear on lists of top corporate givers or are ranked among most ethical firms, prompting the suspicion that companies are using philanthropy as a kind of moral window-dressing. This paper explores whether restating firms are (1) using philanthropy to divert public attention away from suspect financial results; or (2) making donations to buy good will or a better reputation after they have been required to restate suspect earnings. Our results paint a mixed picture of the morality of corporate philanthropy. Firms forced to restate suspect earnings do seem to be using philanthropy either to divert attention away from their lackluster earnings or to elicit good will from the large community after such restatements. However, the reverse is not true. Just because a firm is a top giver, it does not follow that it is more likely to be a restater of earnings. Nor did we find evidence that firms ranked as very ethical are more likely to be restaters than non-restaters. Firms engage in philanthropy for a variety of reasons. We should not uncritically praise them for their giving, but neither should we regard with a cynical eye all corporate reputations for goodness or all corporation donations.
Journal of Management and Governance