Big Profits, Big Harm? Exploring the Link Between Firm Financial Performance and Human Rights Misbehavior


We examine whether, relative to their global peers, the financial performance of firms from developing countries leads to increases in human rights abuses. We also study the institutional conditions that qualify this relationship. Based on a combination of behavioral and neo-institutional theories, we suggest there is a positive relationship between financial performance and human rights misbehavior as home country liabilities motivate firms to misbehave to achieve their primary goal of economic leadership. We also suggest that strong regulatory and normative pressures attenuate the abovementioned positive relationship, as failure to comply with norms endangers such firms’ secondary goal of achieving international legitimacy. Our analysis, based on a sample of 245 large companies from eight developing countries studied over a 20-year period, supports our hypotheses. Our empirical results suggest that such companies misbehave when they endeavor to strike a balance between maintaining their global economic leadership and sustaining their social legitimacy.

The article is available online here.