The links between poverty, profit and ethics: towards new paradigms



Poverty is considered a global problem in which all social actors, including companies, are called to intervene by taking part of the responsibility for alleviating it (Barkemeyer & Figge, 2014; Medina-Munoz and Medina Munoz, 2020; Sharat, 2020). As a result, the debate over poverty, profit, and business ethics is gaining traction. 

A key issue when discussing poverty is how to conceptualize it, because there are numerous interpretations and perspectives of this phenomenon, and each of these conceptions implies a different way of reacting and different strategies for alleviating it (Bradshow, 2007). For example, a narrow idea of poverty linked to the lack of income necessary to satisfy basic needs has been gradually expanded by considering further social and cultural aspects (Pehn, 2009).  

In light of this complexity, the role of for-profit organizations, especially big corporations, aiming to address poverty becomes crucial. In fact, they have the resources and, in many cases, the capacity to actively contribute to poverty alleviation. Despite potential conflicts between profit logic and the goal of poverty alleviation, it has long been suggested that including the poor in corporate business models could have both financial and social benefits (Prahalad and Hart ,2002; Prahalad, 2005).  

In this scenario, Corporate Social Responsibility is the area of management literature that would ideally be suited to address the problem of poverty. However, in the context of CSR, poverty alleviation has never become a mainstream topic (Medina-Munoz and Medina-Munoz, 2021), possibly because the business case approach (if not always dominant, often privileged in CSR studies) is poorly suited to the theme of poverty.  

Despite this, there have been several significant contributions by different scholars related to: the role of multinationals accused of being insensitive to the problems of many local communities suffering from a situation of poverty (Daye, 2009); the incorporation of the poor into the value chain or the development of hybrid models with both a profit logic and a poverty alleviation purpose (Chliova and Ringov, 2017; Yunus et al. 2008; Barbosa and Trejos, 2009; Battilana and Dorado, 2010); the connection between CSR; poverty and rights (Osuji and Obibuaku, 2016; Sen, 2004); the Government initiatives necessary to alleviate poverty considering also new approaches aimed to “market orchestration” to re-vitalize local markets to achieve more sustainable and financial benefit for poor people and communities (Prahalad, 2005; Shulist, P., & Kistruck, G. M. 2021); the “chosen poverty”, in which a sober lifestyle is chosen (Crivelli, 2020); the lack of relational goods due to certain types of addiction, such as compulsive gamblers (Leung and Snell, 2017, Reith, 2007) and “modern slavery” (Crane et al, 2021).  

Starting from these studies, the aim of the special issue is to promote a necessary paradigm shift in the relationship between poverty, profit and business ethics, overturning the role of the poor to the point of considering them co-creators of value (Lawson-Lartego and Mathiassen 2021) and possessors of peculiar ethical values (Xu & Ma, 2021).  

The special issue aims to promote studies capable of changing a system of thought by integrating business, ethics, and poverty, finding a balance that goes beyond the win-win logic, and promoting the idea of profit as a means rather than an end (Zamagni, 2016).


The Special Issue will welcome both theoretical and empirical studies, using quantitative and qualitative methods, conceptual papers or literature reviews that advance the knowledge related to the dialogue between poverty, ethics and profit. Research questions and topics investigated by contributors to this Special Issue could address, but are not limited to, the following aspects: 

  • Studies on the tensions between different logics existing in for-profit organizations that address the problem of poverty alleviation;
  • Partnerships and networks promoted for the alleviation of poverty;
  • Measurement of the contribution of companies in alleviating poverty;
  • Poverty alleviation strategies by companies in countries where poverty is not widespread but concentrated in specific areas or strata of the population;
  • Poverty in social and integrated accounting;
  • Links between sustainability, profit and poverty;
  • Analysis of the poor as stakeholders;
  • Specific CSR initiatives to alleviate poverty;
  • Poverty, business and gender;
  • Strategies of poverty alleviation in response to different kinds of poverty.

Submission and review process: 

Submissions open: 30th September 2023 

Submissions close: 31st May 2024

The special issue is associated with the 34th EBEN Annual Conference which will take place in Rimini from 24 to 26 May 2023 entitled “Poverty, Profit and Ethics in dialogue toward new Business paradigms in different sectors”. The authors of the articles presented at the conference will be invited to submit their revised and corrected contributions for the special issue and will be submitted to the journal and subject to the referee process. The presence and / or presentation of a work at the conference is not necessary for the purpose of submitting an article to the special issue. 

All submissions should be made through the Emerald Editorial System ScholarOne. Submissions must adhere to the format and style guidelines of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal.

Submit via ScholarOne

Author Guidelines

Submissions will be subject to an initial screening by the Guest Editors. Papers that fall outside the scope or which are considered unlikely to be suitable for the SAMPJ special issue will be desk rejected. The remaining papers will then be subject to double-blind refereeing. There is no submission fee. All accepted papers must have originality in their contributions and have attained the high standards of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal. The Editor-in-Chief of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal will oversee the final set of accepted papers prior to publication.

Any queries or enquiries about the special issue should be directed to any of the guest editors at the following addresses: 

Maria-Gabriella Baldarelli
University of Bologna - Italy
[email protected]

Sergio Paternostro
Lumsa University - Italy
[email protected]

Silvana Signori
University of Bergamo - Italy
[email protected]

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff
Roskilde University - Denmark
[email protected]

Karen Handley
University of Newcastle - Australia
[email protected]

Charles Cho
York University - Canada
[email protected]



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Barkemeyer, R., & Figge, F. (2014). CSR in multiple environments: The impact of headquartering  Critical Perspectives on International Business, 10(3), 124–151. 

Battilana, J., & Dorado, S. (2010). Building sustainable hybrid organizations: The case of commercial microfinance organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 53, 1419–1440. 

Bradshaw, T. K. (2007). Theories of poverty and anti-poverty programs in community development. Community Development, 38, 7–25 

Chliova, M., & Ringov, D. 2017. Scaling Impact: Template Development and Replication at the Base of the Pyramid. Academy of Management Perspectives, 31(1): 44–62.  

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Daye R., 2009. Poverty, Race Relations, and the Practices of International Business: A Study of Fiji. Journal of Business Ethics, 89:115–127. 

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Leung, Ch. H. T., and Snell, R. S. (2017). Attraction or Distraction? Corporate Social Responsibility in Macao’s gambling industry. Journal of Business Ethics 145 (3): 637-658 

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Osuji Onyeka K. and Obibuaku Ugochukwu L. (2016), Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility: Competing or Complementary Approaches to Poverty Reduction and Socioeconomic Rights? Journal of Business Ethics 136: 329–347. 

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Shulist, P., & Kistruck, G. M. (2021). Linking Management Theory with Poverty Alleviation Efforts Through Market Orchestration. Journal of Business Ethics , 173(2), 423-446. 

The State of Global Learning Poverty: 2022 Update (report), made by: the World Bank, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). 

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