Greasing Dirty Machines: Evidence of Pollution-driven Bribery in China

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Environmental pollution has become a serious challenge in emerging markets. Using a unique survey of privately owned enterprises in China, this paper investigates how polluting firms respond to institutional pressures. We find that polluting firms conform to external pressures by combining relational activities and clean technology investments. However, some polluting firms alleviate regulative pressures by bribing government officials, which represents an unethical relational strategy to manage political relationship. We further analyze the contingency on firm-level political connection and local institutional conditions. Political connection buffers firms from institutional demand and demotivates firms’ willingness to respond to institutional pressures; stronger local civic activism and better bureaucratic governance curb the pollution-driven bribery, but they are not strong enough to enhance environmentally friendly practices. Collectively, our study demonstrates how polluting firms navigate institutional pressures in emerging markets, and it particularly highlights the pollution-driven bribery as an obstacle to sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)53-74
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: 22. October 2019


  • Environmental pollution
  • Institutional pressures
  • Bribery
  • Corruption
  • Emerging markets

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