Call for Papers - Ethical Issues in Family Business

​Special Issue Editors

Elias Ηadjielias, Cyprus University of Technology,
Alfredo De Massis, the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Lancaster University, and IMD: 
Michael Christofi, Cyprus University of Technology:
Danae Manika, Brunel University London: 
Stephen Brammer, University of Bath:

Introduction to the Special Issue
Family businesses have been identified to encompass a unique moral infrastructure due to the family influence on the firm (Hubler, 2009; Sorenson et al., 2009). However, additional research is warranted to facilitate adequate understanding of ethical issues in family businesses (Vazquez, 2018). Family businesses have traditionally been connected to the presence of non-economic goals and behaviors at work (Gómez-Mejía et al. 2007; Berrone et al. 2010), including ethical behaviors (Blodgett et al., 2011). A few studies on ethical issues in family businesses indicate that family businesses nurture peculiar business ethics dynamics, which distinguish them from their nonfamily counterparts (e.g., Amann et al., 2012; Blodgett et al. 2011; Campopiano & De Massis, 2015). 

A recent review by Vazquez (2018) highlights that family businesses differ from nonfamily firms on the way they practice business ethics for three underlying reasons. First, family businesses encompass the owning family as a dominant stakeholder (Mitchell et al. 2011). While family businesses are likely to behave ethically towards all stakeholders, they often display conspicuous care towards the family (Samara & Paul, 2019), posing ethical challenges and expectations towards family members, such as environmental, social, and moral considerations, which are not common in nonfamily firms (Sorenson et al. 2009; Vazquez, 2018). Second, family firms nurture unique values and goals, which are dominated by trust (Blodgett et al., 2011), stewardship behaviors (Davis et al., 2010) and socio-emotional wealth preservation (Gómez-Mejía et al. 2007; Berrone et al. 2010). Studies highlight that due to family influence and the presence of a strong organizational culture, family values are likely to gain wide acceptance within family firms and influence to a significant degree the attitudes of individuals and the organization (Dawson & Hjorth, 2012; Sharma & Sharma, 2011). Values and goals linked to the family’s socioemotional utilities can motivate family firm owners, successors, and hence family firms to behave in an ethical and socially responsible manner (Van Gils et al., 2014). Third, family members encompass unique social interactions and are endowed with distinctive social capital, which are centered on the informal relations between family members within and beyond the business (Kotlar & De Massis, 2013; Salvato & Melin, 2008; Sorenson et al., 2009). Family members’ social interactions and ties can play an important role in shaping the family business’ ability to nurture ethical climate and act ethically (Kidwell et al., 2012). 

Research highlights additional conditions and dynamics, which can make family businesses distinctive in the way they practice business ethics. For instance, family businesses comprise the core resident and economic pylon in the majority of rural communities and, due to their engagement in the business and ties to the community, they are likely to hold a unique perspective of ethical and socially responsible business behavior (Niehm et al., 2008). 

Additional research suggests that family businesses are more likely to act in an ethical and socially responsible manner because of their identification (Gallo, 2004), identity, reputation and image (Dyer & Whetten, 2006). However, family businesses may not be necessarily more ethical than their nonfamily counterparts. Research illustrates that in the presence of self-servicing behaviors and the protection of their own interests, certain family businesses may be unethical and less responsible compared to nonfamily firms (Cruz et al., 2014; Morck & Yeung, 2003). Other studies find that family businesses behave in a similar manner with nonfamily firms in terms of ethical behavior (Adams et al., 1996). Further comparative work can help crystallize the way family firms differ from non-family firms regarding business ethics (Vazquez, 2018). Future research based on theories and concepts from the family ethics literature, including family morality (Brennan & Noggle, 1997; Hall, 2016) and parenting ethics (Brighouse & Swift, 2014; Irwin & Elley, 2011) can be useful to establish new theoretical grounds for interpreting such influences on family business ethics.

Besides comparative work, recent research has focused on investigating the mechanisms and conditions that underpin the introduction and development of business ethics within family businesses (Bingham et al., 2011; Vazquez, 2018). For instance, studies have highlighted how ethical values may be introduced into the business through family charters (Hoy and Verser 1994), succession plans (Gallo 1998), and family councils (Sorenson et al., 2009). Other studies illustrate that family businesses develop, transfer, and monitor the enforcement of business ethics through informal governance mechanisms (Adams et al. 1996) and the internalization of ethical values within the family (Hoy and Verser 1994). Recent studies have examined the heterogeneity of behaviors among family businesses regarding their ethical and social engagement, highlighting that this heterogeneity stems from family characteristics, culture and values (Déniz & Cabrera-Suárez, 2005), owner and family involvement (Bingham et al., 2011; O’Boyle, Rutherford & Pollack, 2010), individual characteristics of managers (Niehm et al., 2008), and identification (Berrone et al., 2010; Marques et al., 2014).

Despite the interest in family business ethics, this research stream is still at a nascent stage (Vazquez, 2018). Several scholars are calling for increased engagement in ethical issues in family businesses research to create a body of knowledge with substance and depth, which can inform theory and practice in the family business field (Campopiano, De Massis & Chirico, 2014; Marques et al., 2014; Sharma & Sharma, 2011; Van Gils et al. 2014; Vazquez, 2018). The scarcity of studies at the crossroads of business ethics and family business is surprising given the ubiquity of family firms and the important role they play in any world economy (De Massis et al., 2018; Neubauer & Lank, 2016), as in most countries they account for more than 60% of all businesses (Déniz & Suárez, 2005). More research is needed to better understand both family businesses’ motives to act ethically (Van Gils et al. 2014), and the way ethics and ethical issues are negotiated, developed, transferred, and enforced within family businesses (Vazquez, 2018). Further research is also warranted that explores the heterogeneity of business ethics across family businesses (Madden et al., 2020; Marques et al., 2014) and the other types of organizations established by entrepreneurial families to administer their patrimonial assets (e.g., family foundations, family offices, family holdings, De Massis, Kotlar & Manelli, 2021), as well as the study of this phenomenon from a variety of perspectives, contexts and levels of analysis (e.g., organization-, family-, individual-level) (Lamb & Butler, 2018).

Type of papers and suggested topics

This Special Issue seeks to showcase state-of-the-art manuscripts that focus on ethical issues in the field of family business. We invite submissions that draw upon theoretical lenses from a variety of disciplines (such as ethics, sociology, psychology, management, history), as well as papers that explore the context and conditions surrounding ethics and family business. Purely conceptual/ theoretical papers are welcome as are empirical manuscripts using any methodological approach (quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods). International analyses and comparisons are also welcome. Papers considered for the Special Issue include but are limited to the following topics:

Ethical decision-making processes and trade-offs in family businesses

The governance mechanisms for the development, transfer and enforcement of business ethics in family businesses

The co-existence of ethical goals and socio-emotional goals in family businesses  

The influence of socioemotional wealth preservation on family business ethics

Ethical dilemmas, dialogues, and reflection within business families and their influence on the family business 

Ethical climate and employee commitment in family businesses

The impact of business ethics on relationships within business families 

The relationship between business ethics and family social capital

The way ethical violations by family firms are perceived and punished by the different stakeholders compared to ethical violations conducted by nonfamily businesses

Antecedents of heterogeneity in family business ethics 

Ethical issues at the nexus between family business and rural communities 

The relationship between family values and business ethics

Emotional aspects in the ethical behavior of family firms

The psychological foundations of business ethics in family firms

Ethical determinants of family firms’ sustainability across generations

Submission Instructions

Authors are strongly encouraged to refer to the Journal of Business Ethics submission guidelines for detailed instructions on submitting a paper to this Special Issue. All submissions must be made via JBE’s online submission system by 31 October 2022. The online submission system will start accepting submissions 60 days prior to the call for papers submission deadline. All manuscripts will go through a double-blind peer-reviewed process according to JBE’s guidelines. Informal enquiries relating to the Special Issue, proposed topics and potential fit with the Special Issue objectives are welcomed. Please contact the guest editors with any questions regarding this Special Issue via their contact information above.

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