Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility in Annual Reports: A Comparative Study of Indian Companies & Multi-National Corporations

By Tewari, Ruchi | Journal of Management and Public Policy, January-June 2011 | Go to article overview

Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility in Annual Reports: A Comparative Study of Indian Companies & Multi-National Corporations


Tewari, Ruchi, Journal of Management and Public Policy


Introduction

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as phenomenon is of interest for practitioners and researchers from varied fields like sociology, management, law, communication etc. because as Votaw (1973) put it "...the term (social responsibility) is a brilliant one, it is something but not always the same thing, to everybody. To some it means socially responsible behavior in an ethical sense; to still others the meaning transmitted is that of "responsible for. in a casual mode; many simply equate it with "charitable contributions.; some take it to mean socially conscious or "aware.; many of those who embrace it most fervently see it as a mere synonym for "legitimacy., in the context of "belonging. or being proper or valid; a few see it as a sort of fiduciary duty imposing higher standards of behavior on businessmen at large".

It is the fluidity of the term which attracts and adds dimensions to this process. Further complexity is added by the lack of awareness about CSR amongst the stakeholder (Bhattacharya and Sen, 2004) and yet growing importance and relevance it is enjoying among the corporate circuits. There are several positive outcomes attributed to CSR communication (Brown and Dacin, 1997; Sen and Bhattacharya, 2001) though perils of too much communication has also been experienced by organizations and therefore the companies are confused about the extent, manner and focus of CSR communication (Alsop, 2002). Maignan and Ferrell, (2004), indicate that marketing research in the field of CSR communication is still in the infancy stage and widespread and general conclusions cannot be drawn.

Researchers have loosely understood corporate websites, annual reports and other publicly available literature on and off the internet as the sources of CSR literature all of which targets a broad range of stakeholders (Esrock & Leichty, 2000). The various mediums employed for CSR communication can be categorized into internal and external mediums. The internal communication tools include newsletters, intranet, ethical codes, some thematic reports while the external tools for CSR communication include reports, conferences & meetings, advertisements and websites (Grunig, 1992).

Literature Review

CSR Communication and approaches: Morsing, (2006) defined CSR communication as "communication that is designed and distributed by the company itself about its CSR efforts.. It aims at creating awareness about the organizational activities with the purpose of drawing a positive image about the organization and development of society as well. The fundamentals of CSR communication are held on the ground of creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relations between the organization and the social factors which shape the environment in which the business activity thrives (MÚOSZ, 2007). Schmidheiny, Holliday, Watts, (2002), specify three broad approaches to CSR communication and categorize it into the following:

"Talk the talk" can be understood as an organization which only makes noise about the issue of responsibility but fails to show any action on that. The organization which fails to live by example but manages to create a buzz by talking it has done about responsibility.

"Walk the talk" is the sort of organization which has undertaken responsible activities and practices what it preaches as a desirable corporate behavior. Words are supplemented and backed by actions.

"Talk the walk" a kind of organization which primarily works upon CSR activities and once integral to the organizational activity, communication and awareness about its deeds are created to improve the value of the company.

At the basic ground level what we notice is that most organizations either all into the category of "talk the talk. or "just walk. where they are involved into CSR activities but fail to communicate it to the stakeholders.

Factors Impacting CSR communication: Lattemann, et. al. (2009) have categorized factors affecting CSR communication into three broad categories . …

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