Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

Corporate Social Responsibility as Institutional Hybrids

Academic journal article Journal of Business Strategies

Corporate Social Responsibility as Institutional Hybrids

Article excerpt


This paper empirically examines the impact of societal context on constructs of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The empirical analysis is informed by neo-institutional theory, which conceptualizes CSR constructs as potential or actual institutions. A case study from the Danish business setting identifies the steps that a project group of business actors took to develop a new CSR construct. The steps include the transfer and translation of a foreign institution in response to a field-level problem, major events, and partial deinstitutionalization of an established CSR construct. The findings suggest that the new CSR construct is an institutional hybrid, a combination of foreign and familiar institutions that make a new CSR construct innovative, legitimate, and continuous with existing practice in the business setting. The paper proposes that CSR constructs are malleable institutional hybrids that are most easily implemented if tailored to the social context. It concludes with implications for managers who want to select, design and implement CSR constructs in their own business settings.

The Global Compact

In an address to The World Economic Forum on 31 January 1999, United Nation Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged business leaders to join an international initiative--the Global Compact--that would bring companies together with UN agencies, labour and civil society to support nine (now ten) principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment, and anti-corruption.

The Global Compact's ten principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption enjoy universal consensus and are derived from 'The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,' 'The International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work,' 'The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and 'The United Nations Convention Against Corruption.'

The Global Compact is now entering its next stage of development--from a phase of entrepreneurial growth to one of increasing organizational maturity. With a network of nearly 2,000 companies and other stakeholders, operating in more than 70 countries, the Global Compact is ready to move to a new level of performance.

In December 2004, the first draft of a White Paper proposing a new business model and governance structure will be shared with governments, businesses, labour and civil society groups, and other stakeholders, for review, comment and input. In September 2005, The Global Compact Office will begin to implement the new business model and governance structure.

(Extracts,, November 18, 2004)

This paper addresses the process through which a new CSR construct comes into existence and, in particular, the role of social context in this construction process. The Global Compact exemplifies one such construct of corporate social responsibility (CSR). A CSR construct is a form of CSR that is specific enough to be implemented in practice. The Global Compact is a unique construct in that it draws exclusively on international conventions. It defines CSR as universally as possible to make the construct relevant and appealing across the globe. The Global Compact also exemplifies a CSR construct that has been successful in its ambition of spreading rapidly across the world. Not all CSR constructs make it this far, or this fast. Some never diffuse beyond the innovative setting, others vanish like yesterday's fads and fashions. Yet others are never intended for global diffusion, targeting instead implementation at a more modest scale.

There are many different CSR constructs, some of which are local or national in scope, while others are more international in orientation. A close look reveals that they draw on quite different elements and traditions in their CSR definitions. These differences can manifest themselves in divergent CSR practices across nations. …

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