This article was produced and financed by BI Norwegian Business School

(Illustration: Colourbox)

CSR as corporate fashion

Companies are talking about and reporting on corporate social responsibility as never before. This doesn’t mean companies act any differently, a doctorate study indicates.

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BI Norwegian Business School

BI is a private and independent business school in Norway.

It’s hard to find a major company that isn’t talking about, writing about or reporting on how they take their corporate social responsibility seriously.

The media expect companies to take corporate social responsibility. Politicians require companies to act in a socially responsible manner, and have prepared a Report to the Storting regarding the matter.

As consumers, we often prefer to do business with socially responsible enterprises. At least in theory. In practice, we may not be willing to pay a lot more for corporate social responsibility, or disregard the coolest technical specifications in favour of a greener choice.

In her doctorate study at BI Norwegian Business School, researcher Caroline Dale Ditlev-Simonsen has been looking into the effects of the increasing interest in corporate social responsibility.

(Photo: BI)
  • Have words been followed up with practical actions?
  • Do companies act more socially responsible through changed behaviour or are they satisfied just talking about corporate social responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility in fashion

Ditlev-Simonsen conducted a survey of 500 of the world’s biggest companies (the FT 500 list from the Financial Times) from 1989 to 2007. Here, she has charted the titles the companies have chosen for their non-financial reports.

At the beginning of the survey period, almost all the titles were related to the environment. As time went on, the reports on the environment were replaced by reports on sustainability.

Over the last few years, the use of responsibility has taken over from former best-selling titles such as the environment and sustainability.

New wrapping, same practice

This researcher has examined a selection of annual reports to see what is being reported under the label of corporate social responsibility.

Some of the things Ditlev-Simonsen found were subjects such as energy conservation, health, safety and the environment (HSE), working conditions, ethics, the external environment, pollution, anti-corruption, support of non-profit organisations and the relationship to subcontractors.

None of these topics are new, but some of the activities have been reported without good reason.

“What appears as new measures within corporate social responsibility are none other than existing activities under a new name,” Ditlev-Simonsen shows.

The study may indicate that for many companies, corporate social responsibility is about following trends. After all, ‘everyone else’ is reporting corporate social responsibility.

“Companies are talking about and reporting on social involvement as never before. This doesn’t mean companies change their practice to become more socially responsible even though the concept has become part of a company’s vocabulary,” according to Ditlev-Simonsen.


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