Imitation behavior in environmental, social, and governance disclosure: Textual analysis evidence from Chinese listed enterprises

Business Ethics, the Environment and Responsibility (forthcoming)
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Abstract

The era of sustainable transformation has witnessed an increase in corporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosure waves. Using Chinese A-share listed companies from 2016 to 2021 as a sample, this study adopted textual analysis and machine-learning techniques to analyze ESG reports and explore the imitation behavior of ESG disclosures in emerging Chinese markets for the first time. The results show imitation behavior exists in corporate ESG disclosures from the perspective of group association. Regarding the imitation object, enterprises tend to choose the peer average level as a reference rather than the best enterprise in the same industry, which reveals the inherent law that enterprises' ESG disclosures are satisfied with compliance rather than championship. In terms of effects, the ESG-mimetic isomorphic pressure has no incremental information effect but has an efficiency optimization effect. Furthermore, the imitation intensity and impact effects of ESG disclosure behavior exhibit heterogeneity owing to differences in properties, sales growth rates, and external attention. This study expands the motivation for corporate ESG disclosure behavior and enriches the empirical evidence for institutional isomorphism.

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