Individuals’ Perceptions of the Legitimacy of Emerging Market Multinationals: Ethical Foundations and Construct Validation

Journal of Business Ethics 176 (4):801-825 (2022)
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Abstract

Entry of new organizations, including multinational enterprises from emerging markets, raises the ethical question of will they benefit society. The concept of legitimacy answers this question because it is the overall assessment of the appropriateness of organizational ends and means. Moreover, gaining legitimacy enables EMNEs to succeed in new host countries. Past work examined collective level indicators of the legitimacy of MNEs, but recent research recognizes the importance of individuals’ perceptions as the micro-foundation of legitimacy. This study first uses new pragmatism, deontology, and utilitarianism to demonstrate that legitimacy is fundamentally an ethical concept—a perspective that has been overlooked in management research. Second, this study uses a seven-step procedure to develop and validate a measure of individuals’ perceptions of the legitimacy of Chinese EMNEs operating in The Netherlands, a developed country. Six dimensions of legitimacy were identified. The study also finds support for this legitimacy judgment process linking the dimensions: validating knowledge → propriety judgments → generalized judgment. This work provides additional micro-foundations to research on legitimacy and contributes to the ongoing process of construct validation. Future research could use the validated measure in other settings and use specific ethical theories in depth to refine the concept of legitimacy.

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