Project design

Theoretical background

The researchers will first look at the meaning of responsibility as it is used in the notion of Corporate Social Responsibility. Building on this insight, they will analyse existing CSR activities of companies, including some of the activities of their representative associations, in three business sectors: the oil industry, the banking sector and the fisheries and fish processing industries (see the diagram below). Different instruments of corporate responsibility relevant to the business sectors and four policy fields will be researched and examined.

The project will add a structural component to the predominantly actor-oriented perspective of current CSR research through considering specific conditions in the three business sectors related to the four policy fields.

CSR Impact Assessment tool

A specific CSR Impact Assessment tool will be developed. The project team will use this to seek to separate the rhetoric from the real impact of CSR in the selected business sectors. The Impact Assessment will take into consideration both the micro-level of companies and the macro-level of socio-political effects.

Evaluating CSR impact

At the socio-political level, where the focus of analysis lies, the team will strive to evaluate the contribution of CSR to the achievement of the European Union’s policy goals in four areas of sustainable development: environmental protection (climate and chemicals policies), resource management, gender equality and the countering of bribery. Surveys of the three selected business sectors covering some 20 multinationals in each sector will be made, using among others questionnaires.

In-depth case studies

In a further step, in-depth case studies of selected companies will serve to identify the factors that deliver particularly successful cases of CSR implementation. The project will identify through interviews, the driving forces which contribute to the efficacy of CSR instruments within corporations and in their economic and political environment.

SME study

Through a complementary SME-study, the project will also provide insights into the performance of European small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility. As SMEs tend to lack resources and have a lower public profile and stakeholder accessibility than big corporations, they are frequently less active in beyond-compliance activities. Therefore, CSR impact and its drivers in SMEs will be considered in a comparative perspective. Specific evidence will be gained by analysing the role of environmental CSR in two SME networks, one in an old and one in a new EU Member State.

Political and public policy dimensions of CSR

The project will also tackle political and public policy dimensions of Corporate Social Responsibility. The researchers will evaluate the contribution of CSR instruments to sustainable development in relation to the problem-solving capacity of public policy instruments. Against the backdrop of EU enlargement, they will also analyse the relevance of CSR activities to the integration of the new Member States into the EU. They will consider questions such as which policy areas are suitable to be tackled by CSR and whether a political framework – voluntary or mandatory – will be necessary to make CSR an effective instrument. The team will, finally, formulate policy recommendations for companies, national governments and the EU, promoting elements of a European approach to CSR.