Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has acquired an unquestionably high degree of relevance for a large number of different actors. Among others, academics and practitioners are developing a wide range of knowledge and best practices to further improve socially responsible competences. Within this context, one frequent question is according to what theory should general knowledge of CSR be developed, and in particular the relationship between CSR and small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). This paper suggests that research on large firms should be based on stakeholder theory, while research on CSR among SMEs should be based on the concept of social capital. This paper first provides a theoretical and practical perspective on CSR today; the focus then shifts to the specific literature on CSR and SMEs; some data and information follow on SMEs in Europe and Italy; finally, some conclusions and questions for future research are suggested.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
AccountAbility: 2003, Impacts of Reporting: The Role of Social and Sustainability Reporting in Organisational Transformation (AccountAbility, London, UK).
Ackerman R. W. (1975) The Social Challenge to Business. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
Adler P., Kwon S.-W. (2002) Social Capital: Prospects for a New Concept. Academy of Management Review 27(1): 17–40
Bowen H. P. (1953) Social Responsibilities of the Businessman. Harper, New York
Carroll A. B. (1979) A Three-Dimensional Conceptual Model of Corporate Social Performance. Academy of Management Review 4(4): 497–505
Carroll A. B. (1994) Social Issues in Management Research. Business and Society 33(1): 5–25
Centre for Social Markets: 2003, ‘Corporate Responsibility and SMEs’, in Third Annual Conference on Corporate Citizenship: Focus on SMEs (Kolkata, India).
CERFE Group (2001) Action Research on Corporate Citizenship among European Small and Medium Enterprises. CERFE Laboratory, Rome, Italy
Clark J. M. (1939) Social Control of Business. McGraw Hill, New York, NY
Clarkson M. B. E. (1995) A Stakeholder Framework for Analyzing and Evaluating Corporate Social Performance. Academy of Management Review 20(1): 92–117
CSR Campaign (2003) The European Business Campaign for Corporate Social Responsibility. European Commission, Bruxelles, Belgium
Dando N., Swift T. (2003) Transparency and Assurance: Minding the Credibility Gap. Journal of Business Ethics 44(2/3): 195–200
Davis K. (1973) The Case for and against Business Assumption of Social Responsibilities. Academy of Management Journal 16(2): 312–322
Donaldson T., Dunfee T. W. (1994) Toward a Unified Conception of Business Ethics: Integrative Social Contract Theory. Academy of Management Review 19(2): 252–284
Donaldson T., Dunfee T. W. (1999) Ties That Bind: A Social Contracts Approach to Business Ethics. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA
Donaldson T., Preston L. (1995) The Stakeholder Theory of the Corporation: Concepts, Evidence, and Implications. Academy of Management Review 20(1): 65–91
Drucker P. F. (1984) The New Meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility. California Management Review 26(2): 53–63
DTI: 2002a, Engaging SMEs in Community and Social Issues (Department of Trade & Industry, Accountability, British Chambers of Commerce, Business in the Community and The Institute of Directors, London, UK).
DTI: 2002b, Business and Society: Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2002 (Department of Trade & Industry, London, UK).
Dunfee T. W. (1991) Business Ethics and Extant Social Contracts. Business Ethics Quarterly 1(1): 23–51
Dunham L., Freeman R. E., Liedtka J. (2006) Enhancing Stakeholder Practice: A Particularized Exploration of Community. Business Ethics Quarterly 16(1): 23–42
Elkington J. (1997) Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. Capstone Publishing Limited, Oxford, UK
European Commission (2001) Green Paper: Promoting a European Framework for Corporate Social Responsibility. European Commission, Bruxelles, Belgium
European Commission (2002) European SMEs and Social and Environmental Responsibility. Enterprise Publications, Belgium
European Commission (2003) SMEs in Europe 2003. Enterprise Publications, Luxembourg
Frederick W. C. (1986) Toward CSR3; Why Ethical Analysis Is Indispensable and Unavoidable in Corporate Affairs. California Management Review 28(2): 126–141
Freeman R. E. (1984), Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. Pitman, Boston, MA
Friedman M. (1962) Capitalism and Freedom. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Garriga E., Melé D. (2004) Corporate Social Responsibility Theories: Mapping the Territory. Journal of Business Ethics 53(1): 51–71
Grayson, D.: 2004, ‘How CSR Contribute to the Competitiveness of Europe in a More Sustainable World’, in The world Bank Institute and the CSR Resource Centre (Netherlands), pp. 1–5.
Hasnas J. (1998) The Normative Theories of Business Ethics: A Guide for the Perplexed. Business Ethics Quarterly 8(1): 19–42
Jones T. M. (1980) Corporate Social Responsibility Revisited, Redefined. California Management Review 22(3): 59–67
Joseph E. (2000) A Welcome Engagement: SMEs and Social Inclusion. Institute for Public Policy Research, London, UK
Kolk A. (2003) Trends in Sustainability Reporting by the Fortune Global 250. Business Strategy and the Environment 12(5): 279–291
Kreps T. J. (1940) Measurement of the Social Performance of Business. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
Luken R., Stares R. (2005) Small Business Responsibility in Developing Countries: A Threat or an Opportunity? Business Strategy and the Environment 14(1): 38–53
Manne H. G., Wallich H. C. (1972) The Modern Corporation and Social Responsibility. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC
McWilliams A., Siegel D. (2001) Corporate Social Responsibility: A Theory of the Firm Perspective. Academy of Management Review 26(1): 117–127
Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs: 2003, ‘The Italian Contribution to CSR Promoting Campaign Developed at European Level’, in European Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility ‘The role of Public Policies in promoting CSR’ (Venice, Italy).
Molteni M., Lucchini M. (2004) I Modelli Di Responsabilità Sociale Nelle Imprese Italiane. FrancoAngeli, Milano, Italy
Norman W., MacDonald C. (2004) Getting to the Bottom of ‘Triple Bottom Line’. Business Ethics Quarterly 14(2): 243–262
Perrini, F.: 2006, ‘Responsabilità Sociale Dell’impresa’, in A. Zattoni and F. Perrini (eds.), Corporate Governance (Il Sole 24 Ore, Repubblica, Università Bocconi Editore, Milano, Italy).
Perrini F., Pogutz S., Tencati A. (2006) Corporate Social Responsibility in Italy: State of the Art. Journal of Business Strategies 23(1): 65–91
Phillips R. (2003) Stakeholder Legitimacy. Business Ethics Quarterly 13(1): 25–41
Preston L. E., Post J. E. (1975) Private Management and Public Policy: The Principle of Public Responsibility. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ
Putnam R. (1993) Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey
Putnam R. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY
Raynard P., Forstater M. (2002) Corporate Social Responsibility. Implications for Small and Medium Enterprises in Developing Countries. United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Vienna, Austria
Small Business Research Centre (1997) Indicators of Success and Failure in Young Micro Firms. SOLOTEC, Kingston Business School, Kingston University, London UK
Spence L. J. (1999) Does Size Matter? The State of the Art in Small Business Ethics. Business Ethics: A European Review 8(3): 163–174
Spence L. J., Habisch A., Schmidpeter R. (2004) Responsibility and Social Capital: The World of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire, England
Spence L. J., Jeurissen R., Rutherfoord R. (2000) Small Business and the Environment in the UK and the Netherlands: Toward Stakeholder Cooperation. Business Ethics Quarterly 10(4): 945–965
Spence L. J., Lozano J. F. (2000) Communicating About Ethics with Small Firms: Experiences from the U.K. and Spain. Journal of Business Ethics 27(1): 43–53
Spence L. J., Rutherfoord R. (2003) Small Business and Empirical Perspectives in Business Ethics: Editorial. Journal of Business Ethics 47(1): 1–5
Spence L. J., Schmidpeter R. (2003) SMEs, Social Capital and the Common Good. Journal of Business Ethics 45(1–2): 93–108
Spence L. J., Schmidpeter R., Habisch A. (2003) Assessing Social Capital: Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in Germany and the U.K. Journal of Business Ethics 47(1): 17–29
SustainAbility (2002) Developing Value. The Business Case for Sustainability in Emerging Markets. SustainAbility, London, UK
SustainAbility (2004) Risk & Opportunity, Best Practice in Non-Financial Reporting. SustainAbility, London, UK
Tencati A., Perrini F., Pogutz S. (2004) New Tools to Foster Corporate Socially Responsible Behavior. Journal of Business Ethics 53(1–2): 173–190
Thompson J. K., Smith H. L. (1991) Social Responsibility and Small Business: Suggestions for Research. Journal of Small Business Management 29(January): 30–44
Tilley F. (2000) Small Firm Environmental Ethics: How Deep Do They Go? Business Ethics: A European Review 9(1): 31–41
Unioncamere: 2003, Models of Corporate Social Responsibility in Italy. Executive Summary (Italian Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Craft and Agriculture).
Vogel D. (2005) The Market for Virtue: The Potential and Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility. Brookings Institution Press, Washington, DC
Vyakarnam S., Bailey A., Myers A., Burnett D. (1997) Towards an Understanding of Ethical Behaviour in Small Firms. Journal of Business Ethics 16(15): 1625–1636
Wilson J. Q. (1980) The Politics of Regulation. Basic Books, New York, NY
World Business Council for Sustainable Development: 1999, Corporate Social Responsibility. Meeting Changing Expectations (Conches-Geneva).
World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), Our Common Future. Oxford University Press, Oxford
Zadek S. (2002) Mapping Instrument for Corporate Social Responsibility. European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment & Social Affairs, Bruxelles, Belgium
The author thanks the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Italian Centre for Social Responsibility (I-CSR) for their constant support, and Unioncamere for indications and data that were essential to our research. We thank Nien-hê Hsieh for his comments, as well as participants at the conference “Small and Medium Sized Enterprises and Corporate Social Responsibility: Identifying the Knowledge Gaps”, held at the Durham Business School, U.K.
Francesco Perrini was born in 1965, in Bari, Italy. He has Associate Professor of Management and CSR at the “Giorgio Pivato” Department of Management (IEGI) and Senior Professor of Corporate Finance and Real Estate at SDA Bocconi School of Management of Bocconi University. He is also board member and scientific director of I-CSR, the Italian Centre for Social Responsibility, Milan, Italy.
About this article
Cite this article
Perrini, F. SMEs and CSR Theory: Evidence and Implications from an Italian Perspective. J Bus Ethics 67, 305–316 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-006-9186-2
- corporate social responsibility
- multi-stakeholder approach
- small and medium enterprises
- social capital