How Ethics Influence the Process of Corporate Political Responsibilization: A Study of the Kenyan Tea Industry

Amanda Bille Olsen & Nanna Engedal

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis examines how ethics influence the process of corporate political responsibilization related to wicked problems. Taking a point of departure in Reinecke and Ansari’s (2016) model of corporate political responsibilization, the human rights violations in Kenyan tea industry are researched as a wicked problem with the purpose of identifying and discussing the mechanisms and structures underlying responsibility framing. It is found that the tea industry is marked by a lack of consensus among the actors in terms of who is responsible for solving the wicked problem. Additionally, it is observed, how the issues in the tea industry have gained little attention in the media ultimately influencing the process of corporate political responsibilization negatively. Thus, gaps are identified when applying Reinecke and Ansari’s (2016) model to the case of ethical tea. Based on this, it is argued that the sparse attention on the wicked problem in the tea industry was caused by a lack of consensus on the gravity of the issues, unequal power relationships and differences in values and norms ultimately limiting ethical discourse. Additionally, on the basis of Habermasian ethics as well as Reinecke and Ansari’s (2016) research, it is argued that regulation may be a powerful tool in making corporations accept greater responsibility, but that not all states are equally capable of solving wicked problems on their own. Finally, the lack of ethical consensus, among others, makes it possible for corporations to use certifications as a means of greenwashing instead of accepting political responsibility. Four possible alterations to Reinecke and Ansari’s (2016) model are presented with the purpose of making the model more suitable in addressing the wicked problem in the tea industry. By including these alterations, the model will be made more complex, but it will also present a more adequate reflection of reality. In conclusion, it is argued that corporate political responsibilization processes are influenced greatly by ethics, as ethics are not only influencing the decisions of individuals, but also of states, NGOs and corporations. Thus, it is necessary to consider ethics when discussing corporate political responsibility and wicked problems in particular.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages160
SupervisorsAndrew Crabtree