Purpose – This study aims to examine the potential effect that business ethics (BE) in general and corporate social responsibility (CSR) more specifically can exert on the voluntary disclosure (VD) of intellectual capital (IC) for the ethically most engaged firms in the world. Design/methodology/approach – The research design is based on an inductive approach. As part of the global quantitative investigation, the authors have analyzed the impact of BE and CSR on the transparent communication of the IC. The data under analysis have been investigated using multiple linear regression. Findings – Based on a sample of 83 enterprises emerging as the most ethical companies in the world, the results have revealed that the adoption of ethical and socially responsible approach is positively associated with the extent of about IC. This finding may help attenuating the asymmetry of information and the conflict of interest potentially arising with corporate partners. Hence, IC-VD may stand as an evidence of ethical and socially responsible behaviors. Practical implications – Global and national regulators and policymakers can be involved by these results when setting social reporting standards because they suggest that institutional and/or cultural factors affect top management’s social reporting behavior in the publication of the IC information. Social implications – Direct and indirect stakeholders, if supported by ethical and socially responsible behaviors of the company, could assess more in detail the quality of the disclosed information concerning the IC. Originality/value – Most of the studies that have been conducted in this field have examined the effect of BE and CSR on the firm’s overall transparency, neglecting their potential effect on IC disclosure. This study is designed to fill in this gap through testing the impact of ethical and socially responsible approaches specifically on IC-VD.
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