The evolution of the business case for corporate social responsibility : construction and development in Europe
Although ideas and discussions about the social responsibility of business have a long history, the debate over what is known under the label of CSR (corporate social responsibility) has only escalated worldwide in the last decade. This thesis describes the rise of CSR in Europe by exploring how and why the use of management rhetoric has acted as important means of gaining business acceptance. Arguably, Europe is the most vibrant region for CSR development, and the idea has been embraced by the European Union and national governments for strategic reasons. Forward-looking companies have started to discover CSR as an opportunity for innovation, growth, sustainability and competitiveness. Consequently, the acceptance and adoption of CSR has also initiated organisational change. CSR is of particular relevance for strategic management and corporate marketing/ communications, which has been documented in the growing influence it has gained in the management and marketing discipline. The thesis provides more understanding of the dynamics and aspects within the process of constructing and establishing CSR in the years 2004 to 2008. In particular, the dominance and vitality of the discourse about the link between CSR and competitiveness is analysed. Findings show that CSR was framed and translated into an economic opportunity in a construction process involving multiple sectors and actors. Especially governments, consultants and researchers have argued that corporations would not only contribute to a better society, but also become more profitable in the long run. However, corporations and their CSR managers in particular have actively participated in this process and are no passive adopters of CSR. I have designed the research in a multi-layered, longitudinal fashion. All layers inform each other and are qualitative in nature. Each of the four empirical layers provides a comprehensive sub-study to this thesis and focuses on particular aspects of the development in Europe, mostly the UK and Germany: • Case studies of five multi-national companies based on management interviews demonstrate that managers translated CSR into opportunities, and that their agency and advocacy role manifested CSR as modem management idea, thereby initiated organisational change; • The semiotic study of the construction of CSR in corporate non-financial reports through the use of imagery shows that CSR was communicated as a serious business topic and five different approaches can be distinguished; • Participant observations at two international CSR conference series with participants from multiple sectors traces, firstly, the construction and rhetoric manifestation of CSR as an idea relevant to business, and, secondly, the role of expert communities as resources utilised by CSR managers in order to advance CSR within their respective firms; • The conceptualisation of realistic strategic opportunities of the application of CSR on an industry level is exemplified with a case study into the professional football industry. This thesis is a sceptical account of the evolution of the business case for CSR as a socially constructed phenomena presented as thick and critical description based on a multi-theory, multi-layer, and multi-method approach. Its main contribution lies in revealing the business case of CSR as being constructed by an interconnected group of actors. However, I dismiss statements that CSR is a management fashion of only temporary nature, and provide substance to the claim that translation processes create enacted realities and are part of organisations changing. In addition, merits of the thesis also lie in advancing the CSR research agenda through its individual sub-studies that partially form novel academic inquiries. Therefore, wide-ranging efforts are undertaken at the end in order to show how findings from this thesis can be expanded through future research.
Advisor: Harris, Phil; Aitken, Rob
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Marketing
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis