Practice and perception : the diffusion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Thesis (M.A.)--Georgetown University, 2009.; Includes bibliographical references. Given the array of complex global challenges that human societies face in the 21st century, it has been argued that the accepted role of business in society must change in order to help meet these challenges. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a term often used to convey this sentiment - and to prescribe the necessary changes. The primary goal of this research project is to examine how CSR spreads across society from both an individual and organizational perspective. First, how do individuals identify responsible companies? Second, what factors drive companies to adopt corporate social responsibility (CSR), and what does adoption entail? Diffusion of innovations is a theoretical framework used to explain the spread of ideas, opinions, and products (various types of innovations) across members of a social system. This study combines the lens of diffusion theory with the current literature on CSR, which allows us to define CSR as an innovation, or a tool, that companies adopt to serve a specific purpose or to achieve certain objectives. The data collection process includes both an online survey to identify individuals' CSR perceptions and how these are shaped; as well as personal interviews with six CSR experts and practitioners to identify the utility of CSR for companies. At the individual level, this study finds that individuals' opinions and perceptions of CSR are shaped by a combination of interpersonal and mass media communication channels; companies are more likely to be perceived as responsible if the communications that shape overall perception also provide useful CSR information. At the organizational level, this study finds that CSR helps companies meet various objectives including: crisis/reputation management; recruiting talent and engaging employees; promoting innovation; maintaining competitive position; and market entry. Reasons for adoption vary by company and the competitive context in which it operates; but the context in which adoption occurs shapes the implementation and development of CSR. Finally, this study suggests several possibilities for future research including the role of social networks in the diffusion of CSR.
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