Shared Value and the Impartial Spectator Test

Isabelle Szmigin, Robert Rutherford

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Growing inequality and its implications for democratic polity suggest that corporate social responsibility (CSR) has not proved itself in twenty-first century business, largely as it lacks clear criteria of demarcation for businesses to follow. Today the problem is viewed by many commentators as an ethical challenge to business itself. In response to this challenge, we begin by examining Porter and Kramer’s (Harv Bus Rev 89(January–February):64–77, 2011) call for a shift from a social responsibility to a shared value framework and the need to respond to the problem of the ‘separation thesis’ between business and ethics (Wicks, Bus Soc 35(1):89–118, 1996; Harris and Freeman, Bus Ethics Q 18(4):541–548, 2008). We identify the eighteenth century economist and philosopher Adam Smith in his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments as a source for an ethical approach to business. Building on his central concept of ‘sympathy’, we introduce the idea of the Impartial Spectator Test, which we argue builds on traditional stakeholder perspectives and which provides an objective route to ethical criteria of demarcation. We conclude by assessing how this approach adds to the existing debate around social responsibility and shared value.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Early online date12 May 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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