Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

What Do We Know about Corporate Social Responsibility Research? A Content Analysis

Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

What Do We Know about Corporate Social Responsibility Research? A Content Analysis

Article excerpt

Introduction

Though the roots of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement can be traced to the early 20th century (Carroll and Shabana, 2010), the term corporate social responsibility was first mentioned in Bowen's work Social Responsibilities of the Businessman (1953). Bowen (1953) argued that firms need to understand the importance of business ethics and its contribution to long-term firm performance. CSR initiatives are very important in the context of business ethics (Maignan and Ferrell, 2004), and a number of interesting findings have attracted the attention of CSR practitioners and scholars. These include studies that suggest that CSR activities provide an insurance-like protection when negative events occur (Godfrey et al., 2009); that CSR activities influence not only the growth of sales, but also employment (Carmeli, 2005) and investment (Sen et al., 2006); and that firms with higher CSR ratings may have a sustainable competitive advantage in terms of human capital because they attract more and better potential employees than firms with lower CSR ratings (Carmeli, 2005; Hunt et al., 1989; Turban and Greening, 1997). Consequently, in order to pursue sustainable development and achieve a favourable reputation in a competitive market, an increasing number of companies now put CSR at centre stage when devising strategy and publish CSR disclosures and reports.

Despite its long development, much CSR research remains controversial and underdeveloped. For example, scholars hold different views on some CSR-related concepts such as corporate social performance (CSP), which can be defined as 'a business organization's configuration of principles of social responsibility, processes of social responsiveness, and policies, programs, and observable outcomes as they relate to the firm's societal relationships' (Wood, 1991: 693). Some scholars believe that CSP is the outcome of CSR activities (Aupperle et al., 1985), while others argue that CSP includes CSR principles (Wood, 1991). Another debate surrounds the relationship between CSP and corporate financial performance (CFP), with some studies suggesting that the two are positively correlated (e.g., Lev et al., 2010; Waddock and Graves, 1997), while others, in view of the results of different samples and causal patterns, suggest that the relationship is neutral (Aupperle et al., 1985). A further source of ambiguity is embedded in the link between CSP and CFP It is still unclear whether good CSP leads to growth in revenues or whether Arms with a better CFP possess the capabilities to conduct more CSR activities.

There are also many different definitions of CSR as there are many different ways to think about what CSR includes and what it embraces (Carroll and Shabana, 2010). The current study uses Carroll and Shabana's (2010) four categories of CSR as this definition has been used successfully for research purposes for over 25 years. They define CSR as encompassing 'the economic, legal, ethical, and discretionary [later referred to as philanthropic] expectations that society has of organizations at a given point in time' (Carroll and Shabana, 2010: 89).

The focus of our study is to examine and to review CSR research rather than CSR business practices. Therefore, we confine our review to published CSR studies. Using content analysis, the objectives of the current paper are: (1) to provide a systematic review of the CSR literature, (2) to examine underlying trends in CSR research, (3) to identify milestones in the development of CSR research in order to provide a better understanding of its evolution and (4) to clarify and categorise the structure of CSR studies. The reminder of the article is set out as follows. First, we discuss the methodology adopted, together with an explanation of why we used content analysis in our CSR review. Then, we present our research findings. The paper ends with an indication of a number of gaps for future CSR research.

Methodology

Content analysis

There has been an increasing use of content analysis as a rigorous way of exploring many important but difficult-to-study issues (Duriau et al. …

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