Contractualism conceives of firm-stakeholder relations as cooperative schemes for mutual benefit. In essence, contractualism holds that these schemes, as well as the normative principles that guide and constrain them, are ultimately ratified by the consent and endorsement of those subject to them. This paper explores the empirical validity of a contractualist perspective on firm-stakeholder relations. It first develops a typology of firm-stakeholder contracting problems. It subsequently confronts this typology with empirical data collected in an interview study of concrete stakeholder management practices, involving in-depth research interviews with forty-four managers working in the Dutch financial services industry. The findings of this theory-building study suggest that there are limits to the applicability of the contract model in the context of stakeholder management, and that disregarding either the model or its limitations may lead to highly ineffective firm-stakeholder relations.

boundary conditions, contractual failure, contractual schemes, interview study, stakeholder theory,
ERIM Top-Core Articles
Journal of Business Ethics
Erasmus Research Institute of Management

Heugens, P.P.M.A.R, Kaptein, S.P, & van Oosterhout, J. (2004). Ties that grind? Corroborating a typology of social contracting problems. Journal of Business Ethics, 235–252. doi:BUSI.0000017960.17747.56