Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a popular and increasingly used term among corporations, authorities and in the media. But, what does it signify to corporations and different stakeholders? That is the topic of this study. More concretely, I investigate how corporations present their CSR and what kind of ethical commitment their CSR is based on. Thereafter I look into what other stakeholders (board members, MSc students and NGOs) perceive as corporate motives for CSR engagement and what the same stakeholders think should be the motivation for CSR. Whereas the two first articles study what companies say about themselves in publicly available CSR documents, the third article investigates attitudes among different stakeholder groups towards Norwegian corporate managers’ CSR engagement. The remaining two articles focus on individual employees in Norwegian companies and their understanding and interpretation of CSR.
The findings reveal a truly mixed understanding and application of CSR, independent of the variety in products and services offered by the individual corporations. Even though the findings document an exponential growth in the interest in CSR, it is apparent that the understanding of CSR, and therefore the interpretation and associated actions, vary widely.
The findings furthermore reveal that CSR can, to some extent, be perceived as a trend, a type of corporate concern which is linked to popularity and “fashion”. What CSR implies for individual corporations is to a large degree dependent upon corporate individuals. The way these individuals decide to interpret CSR, dictates the corporate approach to the issue. These individuals are furthermore driven by different carriers for CSR (including profit, long-term value, stakeholder pressure, cluster building, improving branding, innovation, copying, ethics, managerial discretion and sustainability).
Stakeholders outside the corporations assume that branding is the main motivation factor for CSR, whereas they think it should be sustainability. The three stakeholder groups investigated thus perceive that corporate managers are not driven by the “correct” motives when pursuing CSR.
The great increase in the volume and scope of CSR reports does not necessarily reflect the same degree of change in corporations. On the contrary, in the cases investigated, more openness around, and renaming of, ongoing CSR-related activities constitute a large portion of what is described as CSR engagement.
Finally, employees are concerned about CSR and a positive correlation between CSR perception and commitment is identified. However, to increase employee commitment, demonstrating greater care about the company’s own employees might be more effective than taking on responsibility for society outside the company.
Summing up, the findings reveal that the great increase in CSR interest has so far not led to corresponding actual changes in corporate operations.