Harmonization in CSR Reporting

MNEs and Global CSR Standards
  • Fabienne Fortanier
  • Ans Kolk
  • Jonatan Pinkse
Research Article


  • This paper focuses on MNEs’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting, which previous studies have found to exhibit strong country-of-origin effects. It examines whether MNEs’ adherence to global standards (as adopted by e.g. ILO, OECD, UN, ISO) is associated with smaller cross-country differences and less country-of-origin effects in CSR reporting, and whether stringency of standards’ enforcement mechanisms affects reporting harmonization.

  • To test our hypotheses, we collected data on 25 CSR items for a sample of firms consisting of the top 250 firms listed in the Fortune Global list, using ordered logistic regression analysis.

  • We find evidence for upward harmonization in reporting for those MNEs that adhere to global CSR standards. Stricter enforcement mechanisms did not result in stronger harmonization.

  • Our findings imply that global standards and guidelines do not only increase the overall level of CSR reporting, but are also associated with a harmonization of CSR activities of firms from different countries, thus reducing the role that domestic institutions (including legislation and societal concerns) play in shaping CSR practices. Implications for research and practice are discussed.


Corporate social responsibility Country-of-origin effects Global standards Harmonization Institutional context CSR reporting 


  1. Adams, C. A., & Kuasirikun, N. (2000). A comparative analysis of corporate reporting on ethical issues by UK and German chemical and pharmaceutical companies. European Accounting Review, 9(1), 53–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adams, C. A., Hill, W. Y., & Roberts, C. B. (1998). Corporate social reporting practices in Western Europe: Legitimating corporate behaviour? British Accounting Review, 30(1), 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Al-Tuwaijri, S. A., Christensen, T. E., & Hughes II, K. E. (2004). The relations among environmental disclosure, environmental performance, and economic performance: A simultaneous equations approach. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 29(5/6), 447–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ball, A., Owen, D. L., & Gray, R. (2000) External transparency or internal capture? The role of third-party statements in adding value to corporate environmental reports. Business Strategy and the Environment, 9(1), 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bartlett, C., & Ghoshal, S. (1989). Managing across borders: The transnational solution. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  6. Baxter, R. (2009). Reflective and formative metrics of relationship value: A commentary essay. Journal of Business Research, 62(12), 1370–1377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Belkaoui, A., & Karpik, P. G. (1989). Determinants of the corporate decision to disclose social information. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 2(1), 36–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bennett, C. J. (1991). What is policy convergence and what causes it? British Journal of Political Science, 21(2), 215–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berthelot, S., Cormier, D., & Magnan, M. (2003). Environmental disclosure research: Review and synthesis. Journal of Accounting Literature, 22(1), 1–44.Google Scholar
  10. Bowie, N., & Vaaler, P. (1999). Some arguments for universal moral standards. In G. Enderle (Ed.), International business ethics. Challenges and approaches (pp. 160–173). Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  11. Buhr, N., & Freedman, M. (2001). Culture, institutional factors and differences in environmental disclosure between Canada and the United States. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 12(3), 293–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Busch, P. O., & Jorgens, H. (2005). International patterns of environmental policy change and convergence. European Environment, 15(2), 80–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carroll, A. B. (1999). Corporate social responsibility—Evolution of a definitional construct. Business & Society, 38(3), 268–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cassel, D. (2001). Human rights and business responsibilities in the global marketplace. Business Ethics Quarterly, 11(2), 261–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cavana, Y. R., Delahaye, L. B., & Sekaran, U. (2001) Applied business research: Qualitative and quantitative methods. Melbourne: Wiley.Google Scholar
  16. Chapple, W., & Moon, J. (2005). Corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Asia. Business & Society, 44(4), 415–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Christmann, P. (2004). Multinational companies and the natural environment: Determinants of global environmental policy standardization. Academy of Management Journal, 47(5), 747–760.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Coltman, T., Devinney, T., Midgley, D., & Venaik, S. (2008). Formative versus reflective measurement models: Two applications of formative measurement. Journal of Business Research, 61(12), 1250–1262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Deegan, C. (2002) The legitimising effect of social and environmental disclosures—A theoretical foundation. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 15(3), 282–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Diamantopoulos, A. (2008). Formative indicators: Introduction to the special issue. Journal of Business Research, 61(12), 1201–1202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. T. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48(2), 147–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dowell, G., Hart, S. L., & Yeung, B. (2000). Do corporate global environmental standards create or destroy market value? Management Science, 46(8), 1059–1074.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Elango, B., & Sethi, S. P. (2007). An exploration of the relationship between country of origin (COE) and the internationalization-performance paradigm. Management International Review, 47(3), 369–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Elkington, J. (1997). Cannibals with forks. The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Oxford: Capstone.Google Scholar
  25. Fekrat, M. A., Inclan, C., & Petroni, D. (1996). Corporate environmental disclosures: Competitive disclosure hypothesis using 1991 annual report data. The International Journal of Accounting, 31(2), 175–195.Google Scholar
  26. Fornell, C., & Larcker, D. (1981). Evaluating structural equation models with unobservable variable and measurement error. Journal of Marketing Research, 17(1), 39–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fortanier, F., & Kolk, A. (2007). On the economic dimensions of corporate social responsibility: Exploring Fortune Global 250 reports. Business & Society, 46(4), 457–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Freedman, M., & Jaggi, B. (2005). Global warming, commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, and accounting disclosures by the largest global public firms from polluting industries. The International Journal of Accounting, 40(3), 215–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gamble, G. O., Hsu, K., Jackson, C., & Tollerson, C. D. (1996). Environmental disclosures in annual reports: An international perspective. The International Journal of Accounting, 31(3), 293–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gardberg, N. A., & Fombrun, C. J. (2006). Corporate citizenship: Creating intangible assets across institutional environments. Academy of Management Review, 31(2), 329–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Global Compact. (2005). Guide to the Global Compact. Accessed 17 June 2005.Google Scholar
  32. Gray, R., Kouhy, R., & Lavers, S. (1995). Corporate social and environmental reporting. A review of the literature and a longitudinal study of UK disclosure. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 8(2), 47–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Greenwood, R., & Suddaby, R. (2006). Institutional entrepreneurship in mature fields: The big five accounting firms. Academy of Management Journal, 49(1), 27–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. GRI. (2002). Sustainability reporting guidelines. Boston: Global Reporting Initiative.Google Scholar
  35. Guler, I., Guillén, M. F., & Macpherson, J. M. (2002). Global competition, institutions, and the diffusion of organizational practices: The international spread of ISO 9000 quality certificates. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47(2), 207–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Halme, M., & Huse, M. (1997). The influence of corporate governance, industry and country factors on environmental reporting. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 13(2), 137–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Harzing, A. W., & Sorge, A. (2003). The relative impact of country of origin and universal contingencies on internationalization strategies and corporate control in multinational enterprises. Organization Studies, 24(2), 187–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hess, D., Rogovsky, N., & Dunfee, T. W. (2002). The next wave of corporate community involvement: Corporate social initiatives. California Management Review, 44(2), 110–125.Google Scholar
  39. Hoffman, A. J. (1999). Institutional evolution and change: Environmentalism and the U.S. chemical industry. Academy of Management Journal, 42(4), 351–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Holland, L., & Boon Foo, Y. (2003). Differences in environmental reporting practices in the UK and the US: The legal and regulatory context. British Accounting Review, 35(1), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ingram, P., & Clay, K. (2000). The choice-within-constraints institutionalism and implications for sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 525–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Jiang, R. J., & Bansal, P. (2003). Seeing the need for ISO 14001. Journal of Management Studies, 40(4), 1047–1067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. King, A., & Lenox, M. (2000). Industry self-regulation without sanctions: The chemical industry’s responsible care program. Academy of Management Journal, 43(4), 698–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Knol, D. L., & Berger, M. P. (1991). Empirical comparison between factor analysis and multidimensional item response models. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 26(3), 457–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kolk, A. (2003). Trends in sustainability reporting by the Fortune Global 250. Business Strategy and the Environment, 12(5), 279–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kolk, A. (2005). Environmental reporting by multinationals from the triad: Convergence or divergence? Management International Review, 45(1), 145–166.Google Scholar
  47. Kolk, A. (2010). Trajectories of sustainability reporting by MNCs. Journal of World Business, 45(4), 367–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kolk, A., & Pinkse, J. (2005). Business responses to climate change: Identifying emergent strategies. California Management Review, 47(3), 6–20.Google Scholar
  49. Kostova, T. (1999). Transnational transfer of strategic organizational practices: A contextual perspective. Academy of Management Review, 24(2), 308–324.Google Scholar
  50. Kostova, T., & Roth, K. (2002). Adoption of an organizational practice by subsidiaries of multinational corporations: Institutional and relational effects. Academy of Management Journal, 45(1), 215–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. KPMG. (2002) KPMG International Survey of Corporate Sustainability Reporting 2002. De Meern: KPMG.Google Scholar
  52. KPMG. (2005). KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2005. Amsterdam: KPMG.Google Scholar
  53. KPMG. (2008). KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2008. Amstelveen: KPMG.Google Scholar
  54. Lee, T. M., & Hutchison, P. D. (2005). The decision to disclose environmental information: A research review and agenda. Advances in Accounting, 21, 83–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Levy, D. L., & Kolk, A. (2002). Strategic responses to global climate change: Conflicting pressures on multinationals in the oil industry. Business & Politics, 4(3), 275–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Levy, D. L., & Rothenberg, S. (2002). Heterogeneity and change in environmental strategy: Technological and political responses to climate change in the global automobile industry. In A. J. Hoffman & M. J. Ventresca (Eds.), Organizations, policy and the natural environment—Institutional and strategic perspectives (pp. 173–193). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Levy, D. L., Brown, H. S., & de Jong, M. (2010). The contested politics of corporate governance: The case of the Global Reporting Initiative. Business and Society, 49(1), 88–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mathews, M. R. (1997). Twenty-five years of social and environmental accounting research: Is there a silver jubilee to celebrate? Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 10(4), 481–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2008). “Implicit” and “explicit” CSR: A conceptual framework for a comparative understanding of corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 33(2), 404–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McWilliams, A., & Siegel, D. (2001). Corporate social responsibility: A theory of the firm perspective. Academy of Management Review, 26(1), 117–127.Google Scholar
  61. Meek, G. K., Roberts, C. B., & Gray, S. J. (1995). Factors influencing voluntary annual report disclosures by U.S., U.K. and Continental European multinational corporations. Journal of International Business Studies, 26(3), 555–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Meyer, J. W., & Rowan, B. (1977). Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83(2), 340–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Neu, D., Warsame, H., & Pedwell, K. (1998). Managing public impressions: Environmental disclosures in annual reports. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 23(3), 265–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. OECD. (2005). OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Accessed 17 June 2005.Google Scholar
  65. Ohmae, K. (1990). The borderless world: Power and strategy in the interlinked economy. London: Fontana.Google Scholar
  66. Outtes Wanderley, L., Lucian, R., Farache, F., & Milton de Sousa Filho, J. (2009). CSR information disclosure on the web. A context based approach. Journal of Business Ethics, 82(2), 369–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Owen, D. L., Swift, T. A., Humphrey, C., & Bowerman, M. (2000). The new social audits: Accountability, managerial capture or the agenda of social champions? European Accounting Review, 9(1), 81–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Park, J. (2004). Business and human rights. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 13(Spring), 24–27.Google Scholar
  69. Perrini, F. Russo, A., & Tencati, A. (2007). CSR strategies of SMEs and large firms. Evidence from Italy. Journal of Business Ethics, 74(3), 285–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Portney, P. R. (2008). The (not so) new corporate social responsibility: An empirical perspective. Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, 2(2), 261–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Power, M. (1991). Auditing and environmental expertise: Between protest and professionalization. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 4(3), 30–42.Google Scholar
  72. Reich, R. (1991). The work of nations: Preparing ourselves for the 21st century capitalism. New York: Alfred Knopf.Google Scholar
  73. Rosenzweig, P. M., & Nohria, N. (1994). Influences on human resource management practices in multinational corporations. Journal of International Business Studies, 25(2), 229–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rosenzweig, P. M., & Singh, J. V. (1991). Organizational environments and the multinational enterprise. Academy of Management Review, 16(2), 340–361.Google Scholar
  75. Rugman, A. (2005). The regional multinationals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Rugman, A. M., & Verbeke, A. (2004). A perspective on regional and global strategies of multinational enterprises. Journal of International Business Studies, 35(1), 3–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Rugman, A. M., & Verbeke, A. (2008). A new perspective on the regional and global strategies of multinational services firms. Management International Review, 48(4), 397–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Scott, W. R. (1995). Institutions and organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  79. Selsky, J. W., & Parker, B. (2005). Cross-sector partnerships to address social issues: Challenges to theory and practice. Journal of Management, 31(6), 849–873.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Seo, M. G., & Creed, W. E. D. (2002). Institutional contradictions, praxis, and institutional change: A dialectical perspective. Academy of Management Review, 27(2), 222–247.Google Scholar
  81. Sethi, S. P., & Elango, B. (1999). The influence of “country of origin” on multinational corporation global strategy: A conceptual framework. Journal of International Management, 5(4), 285–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Solomon, A., & Lewis, L. (2002). Incentives and disincentives for corporate environmental disclosure. Business Strategy and the Environment, 11(3), 154–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Tarca, A. (2004). International convergence of accounting practices: Choosing between IAS and US GAAP. Journal of International Financial Management and Accounting, 15(1), 60–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Tulder, R. van, & Kolk, A. (2001). Multinationality and corporat ethics: Codes of conduct in the sporting goods industry. Journal of International Business Studies, 32(2), 267–283.Google Scholar
  85. Turban, D. B., & Greening, D. W. (1997). Corporate social performance and organizational attractiveness to prospective employees. Academy of Management Journal, 40(3), 658–672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Van Der Laan Smith, J., Adhikari, A., & Tondkar, R. H. (2005). Exploring differences in social disclosures internationally: A stakeholder perspective. Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, 24(2), 123–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Westney, D. E. (1993). Institutionalization theory and the multinational corporation. In S. Ghoshal & D. E. Westney (Eds.), Organization theory and the multinational corporation (pp. 53–76). New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  88. Whetten, D. A., Rands, G., & Godfrey, P. (2002). What are the responsibilities of business to society? In A. M. Pettigrew, H. Thomas, & R. Whittington (Eds.), Handbook of Strategy and Management (pp. 373–408). London: Sage publications.Google Scholar
  89. Wilcox, J., Howell, R., & Breivik, E. (2008). Questions about formative measurement. Journal of Business Research, 61(12), 1219–1228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Williams, S. M., & Wern Pei, C. A. H. (1999). Corporate social disclosures by listed companies on their websites: An international comparison. The International Journal of Accounting, 34(3), 389–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Gabler Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Amsterdam Business SchoolAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations