Extracting Legitimacy: An Analysis of Corporate Responses to Accusations of Human Rights Abuses

Rajiv Maher*, Moritz Neumann, Mette Slot Lykke

*Corresponding author for this work

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We ask what type of neutralization techniques corporations apply to allegations of human rights abuses. We proceed by undertaking a Qualitative Content Analysis (QCA) of 162 responses by ten extractives-sector firms over a period of 14 years. The firms were responding to accusations of human rights impacts documented by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. We use Garrett et al.’s (J Bus Ethics 8(7):507–520, 1989) framework of neutralization techniques consisting of denial, justification, concession and excuse to examine the responses. During our QCA, we observed emerging themes around self-promotion and evasive tactics. We contribute to existing literature by proposing ‘evasion’ as a novel neutralization technique, particularly in circumstances of corporate responses to accusations of wrongdoing. We argue that evasion occurs when firms refuse to engage in the debate brought forward in an accusation. In addition, we enrich our understanding of neutralization techniques by proposing subneutralization techniques in our analysis to diverge from that of other studies. We conclude by discussing the implications of the predominance of corporate narcissism and evasive neutralization techniques to the business and human rights movement and other international corporate responsibility standards.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)609-628
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: 04 January 2021.


  • Corporate responses to accusations of wrongdoing
  • Neutralization techniques
  • Business and human rights

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