Corporate Social Responsibility Reports: A Thematic Analysis Related to Supply Chain Management

Article excerpt


As the scale and scope of human-generated activity has put immense pressure on natural systems, companies, governments and citizens have become concerned about the well-being of society and the environment (Hart 1995). Industrial activities have been linked to the declining state of the earth's physical and ecological systems and ultimately long-term environmental, health and safety (EHS) issues (Hoffman 2000; Rosen 2001). Increasing global industrial activity raises the demand for finite natural resources (Beamon 1999; Srivastava 2007), reduces availability, creates scarcity and drives up prices (Commoner 1990; Hart 1995; Shrivastava 1995; Tsoulfas and Pappis 2006).

Companies are beginning to recognize how greater social and environmental responsibility can improve firm performance (Porter and van der Linde 1995; Zadek 2004). This includes contributing to communities, improving workplace conditions, eliminating waste and using resources more efficiently. For example, Anheuser-Busch partnered with suppliers to redesign its cans to reduce wall thickness, while maintaining quality standards. The redesign reduced annual aluminum usage in 2006 by nearly 12 million pounds and improved the organization's bottom line (Anheuser-Busch 2006). New approaches to improving corporate responsibility in worldwide operations are emerging as a means for companies to improve economic, social and environmental performance; a focus on what Elkington (1998) calls the triple-bottom line. This focus is in response to a number of challenges and opportunities, including greater stakeholder demands, more government regulations, criticism from nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and increasing competitive pressure (Sarkis 1998).

As corporate social and environmental issues become more salient to stakeholders, the stakeholders seek to understand how corporate strategies integrate social and environmental improvement into the economic goals of the firm (Zadek 2004). Consumers are demanding that companies produce high-quality, safe and environmentally friendly products with manufacturing processes that are less harmful to the environment and to communities (Lash and Wellington 2007). An organization's ability to effectively communicate corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies and policies can enhance stakeholder satisfaction (Esrock and Leichty 1998).

Many companies have responded to stakeholder expectations by publishing annual CSR reports that communicate the activities and strategies being used to address social and environmental issues (Esrock and Leichty 1998). These reports are often referred to as sustainability reports. The reports serve as a barometer of an organization's attitudes toward social and environmental responsibility, strategic planning and the level of integration in the organization's business strategic plans, both at the corporate level and functional levels (Kolk 2003; Jose and Lee 2007) such as supply chain management.

Despite interest from both academics and practitioners, there is limited research to understand how companies communicate operations and supply chain social and environmental strategies through CSR reports. Furthermore, there is limited published research exploring how companies position CSR reports and what these reports indicate about the companies publishing them. CSR reports serve as a rich source of secondary data to understand better the companies' intentions, strategies and activities, as well as the results of corporate social and environmental responsibility both at the corporate and supply chain level.

This research attempts to address three different supply-chain-related issues. First, by utilizing secondary data from the CSR reports, it seeks to fill a gap in the corporate responsibility strategy research and provide insight into how companies are addressing social and environmental issues. Second, it looks at the interface between the issues companies emphasize in CSR reports and supply chain management (SCM). …