When interests collide: dealing with stakeholder conflict and other complexities

By Carol A Adams

conflict shutterstock_338239973Development in emerging economies such as India is occurring at a rapid pace as the Earth is heading towards climate disaster.  The social and environmental issues are complex, interrelated and sometimes conflicting, particularly when it comes to the trade-off between local and global issues.  The positions of civil society organisations and other stakeholder groups are in conflict, but how can they be taken on board in a way which enhances sustainable development?

This is a question addressed by Afreen and Kumar (2016) in the case of the development of the Dhamra Port in the state of Orissa, India.  The researchers from the Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow examined how the interactions amongst various stakeholders evolved, drawing on publicly available information.  The evidence points to the importance of various civil society actors in plugging governance gaps resulting from deficiencies in regulations as they appear.

But ultimately the authors demonstrate that: “The Dhamra Port case is an ideal example of failure to use, let alone leverage, wide cross-sectoral stakeholder discussions and negotiations to make a large development project socially and environment friendly.”  Through examination of the failings of stakeholder engagement in the Dhamra Port case, the authors propose an approach more likely to lead to sustainable development.

Lake Taupo, New Zealand

Lake Taupo, New Zealand

A contrasting case of handling stakeholder conflict is provided by Arunachalam, Singh-Ladhar and McLachlan (2016) who, in addition to publicly available information, used interviews and observation of meetings to examine the planning and policy processes in relation to the pollution in Lake Taupo.  They examine their evidence from a deliberative democracy perspective. In contrast to the Dhamra Port case they found that the “local government processes facilitated the expression of multiple views in relation to the impacts of human activities on the Lake”.  The interviewees were drawn from the local business, farming and scientific research communities, environmentalists, Maori tribal community groups and other residents.

These papers are two of five just published in Volume 7, issue 3 of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal.

Other papers in this issue include Christ, Burritt and Varsei (2016) who consider extending the use of Environmental Management Accounting to facilitate decision making for long term outcomes in situations where trade-offs are required (as they were in the issues addressed in the previous two papers).  The authors use a large Australian wine company as a case study organisation making trade-offs between economic, carbon emission and water risk outcomes in options concerning a supply chain decision.  Amongst other things the case study highlights the need for cross functional input and transdisciplinary thinking to solve complex problems – a key reason for establishing this journal.  The case study raises many interesting issues for practitioners (and students for that matter) to consider.

Research by Dobbs and Van Staden (2016) finds that commitment to accountability to stakeholders is absent in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting in New Zealand. In addition to examining CSR disclosures in the annual and sustainability reports of companies the researchers used an online survey to gauge the level of commitment to fulfilling responsibility to stakeholders and the level of engagement with them.  The researchers found that the reasons given for reporting on CSR were not always congruent with the actual reporting.

Arayssi, Dah and Jizi’s (2016) find that high participation of women on corporate boards has a ‘significant’ positive impact on disclosure on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues and hence also firm risk. This of course also leads to better returns for shareholders. The research uses the Bloomberg ESG disclosure score for FTSE 350 firms.

You can access these papers here.  To subscribe to the journal email [email protected].  Register to receive alerts for new issues  here (click ‘TOC alert’ in the journal box at the top of the page).


Shamama Afreen and Sushil Kumar (2016) “Between a rock and a hard place: the dynamics of stakeholder interactions influencing corporate sustainability practices”, Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 7 (3).

Mahmoud Arayssi, Mustafa Dah and Mohammad Jizi (2016) “Women on boards, sustainability reporting and firm performance”, Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 7 (3).

Murugesh Arunachalam, Jagdeep Singh-Ladhar and  Andrea McLachlan (2016) “Advancing environmental sustainability via deliberative democracy: analysis of planning and policy processes for the protection of Lake Taupo”, Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 7 (3).

Katherine Leanne Christ, Roger Burritt and Mohsen Varsei (2016) “Towards environmental management accounting for trade-offs”, Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 7 (3).

Stevie Dobbs and Chris Van Staden (2016) “Motivations for corporate social and environmental reporting: New Zealand evidence”, Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 7 (3).

Carol Adams is Founding Editor and Editor in Chief of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal.  In order to raise awareness of the journal the text of this article may be reposted in full without editing with this note that it is reposted from Towards Sustainable Business.  (Pictures are from shutterstock.com and must be purchased.)

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