SMEs and CSR Theory: Evidence and Implications from an Italian Perspective

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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Francesco Perrini.

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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.

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Perrini, F. SMEs and CSR Theory: Evidence and Implications from an Italian Perspective. J Bus Ethics 67, 305–316 (2006).

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  • corporate social responsibility
  • Italy
  • multi-stakeholder approach
  • small and medium enterprises
  • social capital