How Banking Sector Changes Moral Values into Valuable Instruments ?

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW1.1.01 (Tower One)
Bihr Marie-Hélène, IAE -UMPF, Grenoble, France
Laurence Gialdini, SKEMA Business School-Université de Lille, Sophia-Antipolis, France
In this paper, we question the rhetoric of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and business ethics in the banking industry. Although legislation and professional standards have for long been adopted by governments and regulatory bodies in order to protect a wide range of stakeholders from financial misconduct, and despite the fact that many organizations have set forward ethical codes of conduct or corporate responsibility reports, these measures seem insufficient to overcome moral issues and weaknesses specific to the banking sector and the resulting mistrust. Financial crisis acts as a signal that CSR and Business Ethics theories might have partially failed at addressing the issues.

We define ‘responsibility-related concepts’ (hereafter RRC) as the collection of available syntagms making an explicit reference to terms relating to responsibility, such as ‘business ethics’, ‘corporate social responsibility’ and ‘socially responsible investment’. More precisely, we use this expression to identify the manifold materializations of morally-embedded issues within financial organizations. To date, on one hand, the Literature on ‘responsibility’ or RRC has Academic research and discourse production within corporations, when addressing issues relating to responsibility, tend to use the same vocabularies. More precisely, we suggest that those notions, nowadays widely disseminated and used within the corporate world, both encompass and indicate several differences that, as a result, get trimmed and planed to a common denominator. Such an homogenization of complex concepts, sometimes still under construction, makes it very difficult to precisely explain and understand what is at stake when one speaks about them.

If we are to write critically about the appropriation of ethics and responsibility by banking organizations, there is a need to look into the underlying episteme and the hermeneutics of financial language. Despite the growing number of discourses aimed at addressing responsibility, there is an effective disconnection between practitioners discourses and effective practices in this industry. We question this gap by searching for the different materializations of RRCs in the banking industry, with a view to deconstructing the notion of responsibility in use among financial institutions. Drawing on a set of this two financial artefacts (socially responsible investment and ethical codes of conduct), we show how financial discourses aimed at acknowledging the responsibility of financial practitioners remain fundamentally incapacitated. We argue that discourses relating to responsibility, while being controversial by nature, lose their substance during the process of their epistemic commodification. We suggest that financial discourses on ethics and responsibility need to reverse this move, in an effort to make a shift from “thin” to “thick” (after C. Geertz) in order to ‘reembed’ responsibility-related devices with the descriptions of practices.