Volume 12, 2015
Teaching Business Ethics and Stakeholder Theory
Chains of Trust or Control? A Stakeholder Dilemma
This paper discusses trust between stakeholders, with special emphasis on a new theory from the social sciences and ends up by focusing on a multidimensional dilemma between trust and control. Harald Grimen (1945-2011), an influential philosopher, social scientist and ethicist in Norway, defined trust as a communicative action between a trust-giver and a trust-receiver, characterized by the giver taking few precautions. This first part of his theory provides the basis for a specified interpretation of trust as a collective undertaking among stakeholders in modern organizations, such as financial companies, constituting chains of trust. The phenomenon of cooperation is fundamental in such chains. Grimen’s theoretical focus on trust as a single action, and on the chain of cooperation as several interconnected actions, represents a corrective to the psychological and individualistic profile of mainstream research on trust (Rousseau et al. 1998) and converges toward principal-agent theories. The paper uses Grimen’s theory to work out a hypothesis about a chain of trust between stakeholders in the financial industry, promoting a multi-efficient cooperation between them. The multi-efficiency of chains of trust is also discussed in connection with the risk of violating different ethical norms. The risk brings to focus the corresponding need for chains of control as a means to reduce the risk of violations of norms. But the chain of control has not only this advantage, but also a disadvantage. The inefficiency of chains of control is a severe hindrance to the efficiency of the chain of trust, even if it reduces the risk of violation of norms. The paper ends by underscoring a multidimensional dilemma typical for cooperation between stakeholders in modern organizations, i.e. the fundamental dilemma between the advantages and disadvantages of both chains of trust and chains of control.