Business Ethics Quarterly

Special Section Accountability in a Global Economy: The Emergence of International Accountability Standards to Advance Corporate Social Responsibility

Accountability in a Global Economy: The Emergence of International Accountability Standards

Dirk Ulrich Gilbert, Andreas Rasche and Sandra Waddock


This article assesses the proliferation of international accountability standards (IAS) in the recent past. We provide a comprehensive overview about the different types of standards and discuss their role as part of a new institutional infrastructure for corporate responsibility. Based on this, it is argued that IAS can advance corporate responsibility on a global level because they contribute to the closure of some omnipresent governance gaps. IAS also improve the preparedness of an organization to give an explanation and a justification to relevant stakeholders for its judgments, intentions, acts and omissions when appropriately called upon to do so. However, IAS also face a variety of problems impeding their potential to help address social and environmental issues. The contribution of the four articles in this special section is discussed in the context of standards’ problems and opportunities. The article closes by outlining a research agenda to further develop and extend the scholarly debate around IAS.

Dirk Ulrich Gilbert is a professor of management at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. After obtaining his Ph.D. at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, he taught at the European Business School in Oestrich-Winkel, Germany, and The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. He has published several books and numerous articles in the areas of business ethics, international strategy, and organizational theory. His most recent work centers on regional strategies of MNCs, strategic networks, and international accountability standards. E-mail:

Andreas Rasche is assistant professor of business in society at Warwick Business School. He holds a Ph.D. (Dr. rer. pol.) from European Business School, Germany, and a Habilitation (Dr. habil.) from Helmut-Schmidt-University, Hamburg. His research focuses on the emerging global institutional infrastructure for corporate responsibility. He regularly contributes to international journals in his field of study and has lectured widely on corporate social and environmental responsibility at different institutions in Europe. His latest book, The United Nations Global Compact: Achievements, Trends and Challenges (Cambridge University Press), just appeared in print. E-mail:

Sandra Waddock is Galligan Chair of Strategy and Professor of Management at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. Author of more than 100 articles and several books, she writes extensively on corporate responsibility. Her most recent books are The Difference Makers: How Social and Institutional Entrepreneurs Built the Corporate Responsibility Movement (Greenleaf, 2008) and the forthcoming SEE Change: Making the Transition to a Sustainable Enterprise Economy, with Malcolm McIntosh (Greenleaf, in press). E-mail: