The edge of legitimacy: Voluntary social and environmental reporting in Rothmans' 1956-1999 annual reports


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the voluntary social and environmental disclosures made in the annual reports of Rothmans Ltd between the years of 1955 and 1999. The first part of the paper focuses on defining legitimacy theory as it has been used in accounting research, extending the current model of legitimacy that predominates, and discussing the potential of a resource-based approach to testing the theory.

Design/methodology/approach – A qualitative and quantitative approach to analysing annual report disclosures is presented, and this is one of the few studies to operationalise the variables under study as measures of resource flows.

Findings – The paper considers legitimacy theory in light of disclosures made by Rothmans. An initial analysis provides qualitative examples of expected attempts to legitimatise the corporation given the threat posed by the smoking and health debate. Further analysis conducted using a quantitative measure of resource flows controlled by one stakeholder group, contradicts those expected when compared with previous studies, and as a result of this an alternative conceptualisation of legitimacy theory is proposed.

Research limitations/implications – The paper considers one company in one industry and provides evidence from limited stakeholders groups. The results have implications for further research on social and environmental reporting that use a legitimacy framework.

Originality/value – The paper provides one of the few studies to attempt to measure resource flows in order to proxy stakeholder influence on reporting. This therefore provides an alternative to the more common measures of legitimacy used in previous studies. These have predominantly been based on researcher judgement of the categorised text to determine whether they fit certain “legitimacy” criteria.


peer-reviewed, annual reports, corporate social responsibility, disclosure, tobacco

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