Legitimising corporate reputation in times of employee distress through disclosure: Media exposure in the electronic manufacturing services industry in China

Li Zhongtian, Shamima Haque, Larelle Chapple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


This paper aims to examine changes of non-financial voluntary reporting practices over time in response to episodes of employee-related distress. It investigates employee-related disclosures by the four largest electronic manufacturing services firms in China between 2008 and 2013 during a series of employment-related incidents, to investigate how the firms re-legitimate their reputation in response to the media coverage on those incidents.

A series of employee-related incidents that occurred in 2010-2012 is selected as the focus of this study, with total coverage of employee-related disclosures between 2008 and 2013. These incidents are directly linked to three of the four sample companies: Foxconn, Pegatron and Compal Electronics. Employee-related disclosures in corporate social responsibility (CSR) stand-alone reports are coded by a set of specifically designed instructions, and newspaper articles about employee-related incidents are coded for sentiment. Results are interpreted through two theoretical lenses: the media agenda setting theory and the legitimacy theory.

Newspapers reported the employee-related incidents in a way detrimental to the legitimacy of firms that directly involved in the selected industry. In the process of legitimation, firms switch between disclosing more employee-related information and reducing disclosures. The self-expectation on organizational legitimacy also affects how CSR reporting is used in legitimation. The employee-related disclosure analysed is closer to symbolic legitimation than substantive legitimation.

This study contributes to reporting practice by showing that employee-related disclosure is largely vacuous and to a greater extent is used as symbolic legitimation. The quality of disclosure requires significant improvement. This study contributes to the literature by using the legitimacy theory to interpret employee-related disclosure in China, addressing inadequate research efforts in the context of social and human rights dimensions of CSR reporting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-45
Number of pages24
JournalAccounting Research Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

The authors acknowledge comments from participants at the Asia Pacific Interdisciplinary Research in Accounting Conference, Melbourne, July 2016.


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