, Volume 96, Issue 3, pp 339-354
Date: 26 Mar 2010

Communication of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Study of the Views of Management Teams in Large Companies

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Abstract

In light of the many corporate scandals, social and ethical commitment of society has increased considerably, which puts pressure on companies to communicate information related to corporate social responsibility (CSR). The reasons underlying the decision by management teams to engage in ethical communication are scarcely focussed on. Thus, grounded on legitimacy and stakeholder theory, this study analyses the views management teams in large listed companies have on communication of CSR. The focus is on aspects on interest, motives/reasons, users and problems related to corporate communication of CSR information. A questionnaire survey and in-depth interviews confirm that there is a distinct trend shift towards more focus on CSR in corporate communication. Whilst this trend shift started as a reactive approach initiated by the many corporate scandals, the trend shift is now argued to be of a proactive nature focussed at preventing legitimacy concerns to arise. These findings are significant and interesting, implying that we are witnessing a transit period between two legitimacy strategies. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the way respondents argue when it comes to CSR activities coincides with consequentialism or utilitarianism, i.e. companies engage in CSR activities to avoid negative impacts instead of being driven by a will to make a social betterment or acting in accordance with what is fundamentally believed to be right to do. This provides new input to the ongoing debate about business ethics. The findings should alert national and international policy makers to the need both to increase the vigilance and capacity of the regulatory and judicial systems in the CSR context and to increase institutional pressure to enhance CSR adoption and CSR communication. Furthermore, stakeholders need to be careful in assuming that CSR communication is an evidence of a CSR commitment influencing corporate behaviour and increasing business ethics.