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Ethics in the Letter for Shareholders

This paper proposes a qualitative study of the ethical values that chairmen use in the letter included in the annual report of 52 listed French firms. An in depth study of the European and North American ethical and moral philosophy enables us to build a grid of concepts within the letters. The aim of the paper is to define what kind of ethical values the chairman discloses and if the nature of values communicated to the shareholders depends on the economical environment. Therefore, we scrutinized the evolution of ethical values between 2007 and 2010. Results show that being a listed firm doesn’t induce a common use of ethical values in the letters. The letter contains several different concepts of ethics but the most important remains the financial one. But some firms disclose only one ethical value, some show substitution of values, and some an increase and an enrichment of the nature of ethical values. Our observation enhances the identification of some stereotypes of ethical values configurations that are independent from activities or size. We discuss the results and link them to practical situations and some theoretical propositions in the corporate social responsibility field.

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