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Rhetoric and Argument in Social and Environmental Reporting: the Dirty Laundry case

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  • Niamh Brennan
  • Doris M. Merkl-Davies

Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the interactive element in social and environmental reporting during a controversy between business organisations and a stakeholder over environmental performance. Design/methodology/approach: The paper adopts Aristotle's triangular framework of the rhetorical situation to examine how the writer, the audience, and the purpose of communication interact in the choice of rhetorical strategies used to persuade others of the validity and legitimacy of a claim during a public controversy. The analysis focuses on the strategies (i.e. moves and their rhetorical realisations) in the form of logos (appealing to logic), ethos (appealing to authority), and pathos (appealing to emotion), with a particular emphasis on metaphor, used to achieve social and political goals. The authors base the analysis on a case study involving a conflict between Greenpeace and six organisations in the sportswear/fashion industry over wastewater discharge of hazardous chemicals. The conflict played out in a series of 20 press releases issued by the parties over a two-month period. Findings: All six firms interacting with Greenpeace in the form of press releases eventually conceded to Greenpeace's demand to eliminate hazardous chemicals from their supply chains. The paper attributes this to Greenpeace's ability to harness support from other key stakeholders and to use rhetoric effectively. Results show the extensive use of rhetoric by all parties. Originality/value: The authors regard legitimacy construction as reliant on communication and as being achieved by organisations participating in a dialogue with stakeholders. For this purpose, the paper develops an analytical framework which situates environmental reporting in a specific rhetorical situation and links rhetoric, argument, and metaphor.

Suggested Citation

  • Niamh Brennan & Doris M. Merkl-Davies, 2014. "Rhetoric and Argument in Social and Environmental Reporting: the Dirty Laundry case," Open Access publications 10197/5779, Research Repository, University College Dublin.
  • Handle: RePEc:rru:oapubs:10197/5779
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Philip Linsley & Peter Kajuter, 2008. "Restoring reputation and repairing legitimacy: a case study of impression management in response to a major risk event at Allied Irish Banks plc," International Journal of Financial Services Management, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 3(1), pages 65-82.
    2. Niamh Brennan & Doris Merkl-Davies & Annika Beelitz, 2013. "Dialogism in Corporate Social Responsibility Communications: Conceptualising Verbal Interaction Between Organisations and Their Audiences," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 115(4), pages 665-679, July.
    3. Suzanne M. Carter, 2006. "The Interaction of Top Management Group, Stakeholder, and Situational Factors on Certain Corporate Reputation Management Activities," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(5), pages 1145-1176, July.
    4. Russell Craig & Joel Amernic, 2008. "A privatization success story: accounting and narrative expression over time," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 21(8), pages 1085-1115, October.
    5. Niamh Brennan & S. J. Gray, 2000. "Rhetoric and argument in financial reporting : disclosures in profit forecasts and takeover documents," Open Access publications 10197/2965, Research Repository, University College Dublin.
    6. Walters, Melissa, 2004. "Alternative accounting thought and the prison-house of metaphor," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 157-187, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Niamh Brennan & Doris Merkl-Davies & Annika Beelitz, 2013. "Dialogism in Corporate Social Responsibility Communications: Conceptualising Verbal Interaction Between Organisations and Their Audiences," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 115(4), pages 665-679, July.
    2. Vinnari, Eija & Laine, Matias, 2017. "The moral mechanism of counter accounts: The case of industrial animal production," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 1-17.
    3. Claudia Gabbioneta, 2015. "Book Review," FINANCIAL REPORTING, FrancoAngeli Editore, vol. 2015(1), pages 127-131.
    4. Dirk C. Moosmayer & Yanyan Chen & Susannah M. Davis, 2019. "Deeds Not Words: A Cosmopolitan Perspective on the Influences of Corporate Sustainability and NGO Engagement on the Adoption of Sustainable Products in China," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 158(1), pages 135-154, August.
    5. Candy Lim Chiu & Jingxin Zhang & Mingrui Li & Siyu Wei & Shengnan Xu & Xiaotong Chai, 2020. "A study of environmental disclosures practices in Chinese energy industry," Asian Journal of Sustainability and Social Responsibility, Springer, vol. 5(1), pages 1-21, December.
    6. Warren Maroun, 2020. "A Conceptual Model for Understanding Corporate Social Responsibility Assurance Practice," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 161(1), pages 187-209, January.
    7. Cesar Saenz, 2019. "Building legitimacy and trust between a mining company and a community to earn social license to operate: A Peruvian case study," Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 26(2), pages 296-306, March.
    8. Charles H. Cho & Jonathan Maurice & Emmanuelle Nègre & Marie-Anne Verdier, 2016. "Is environmental disclosure good for the environment? A meta-analysis and research agenda," Post-Print halshs-01369422, HAL.
    9. Susannah M. Davis & Dirk C. Moosmayer, 2014. "Greening the Field? How NGOs Are Shaping Corporate Social Responsibility in China," Journal of Current Chinese Affairs - China aktuell, Institute of Asian Studies, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, vol. 43(4), pages 75-110.
    10. Thorey S Thorisdottir & Lara Johannsdottir, 2020. "Corporate Social Responsibility Influencing Sustainability within the Fashion Industry. A Systematic Review," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(21), pages 1-64, November.
    11. Thomas Hermann, 2018. "A rhetorical situation triggers accounting communication. The case of the conflict between the Bank of German States and the Government in 1955/56," CONTABILITA' E CULTURA AZIENDALE, FrancoAngeli Editore, vol. 2018(1), pages 73-118.
    12. David Talbot & Guillaume Barbat, 2020. "Water disclosure in the mining sector: An assessment of the credibility of sustainability reports," Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 27(3), pages 1241-1251, May.
    13. La Torre, Matteo & Dumay, John & Rea, Michele Antonio & Abhayawansa, Subhash, 2020. "A journey towards a safe harbour: The rhetorical process of the International Integrated Reporting Council," The British Accounting Review, Elsevier, vol. 52(2).
    14. Hakan Karaosman & Gustavo Morales-Alonso & Alessandro Brun, 2016. "From a Systematic Literature Review to a Classification Framework: Sustainability Integration in Fashion Operations," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(1), pages 1-19, December.
    15. Giorgia Miotto & Marc Polo López & Josep Rom Rodríguez, 2019. "Gender Equality and UN Sustainable Development Goals: Priorities and Correlations in the Top Business Schools’ Communication and Legitimation Strategies," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(2), pages 1-18, January.
    16. Shrives, Philip J. & Brennan, Niamh M., 2017. "Explanations for corporate governance non-compliance: A rhetorical analysis," CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON ACCOUNTING, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 31-56.

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