“One size fits all”? Convergence in international corporate social responsibility communication—A comparative study of CSR mission statements in the United States and India

Published date01 August 2018
Date01 August 2018
One size fits all? Convergence in international corporate
social responsibility communicationA comparative study of
CSR mission statements in the United States and India
Matthias S. Fifka
|AnnaLena Kühn
|Markus Stiglbauer
FriedrichAlexander University
ErlangenNürnberg (FAU), Institute of
Business and Economics, Erlangen, Germany
Management in the International Food
Industry, University of Kassel, Witzenhausen,
FriedrichAlexanderUniversity Erlangen
Nürnberg (FAU), School of Business and
Economics, Nürnberg, Germany
Matthias S. Fifka, Institute of Business and
Economics, FriedrichAlexander University
ErlangenNürnberg (FAU), Kochstraße 4,
91054, Erlangen, Germany.
Email: matthias.fifka@fau.de
So far, no study has investigated determinants that shape corporate social responsibility (CSR)
communication in mission statements, as previous studies have focused on CSR reports and
homepages. Our study, which is based on institutional theory, fills this gap. By conducting a
directed content analysis of the statements of 200 listed companies in the United States and
India, we examine the content conveyed with respect to 5 CSR dimensions, the 5 most prominent
stakeholder groups, and additional components of CSR mission statements. Moreover, we
examine whether Unted States and Indian companiesCSR communication varies according to
their (a) home country, (b) industry affiliation, (c) degree of internationalization, (d) company size,
(e) profitability, (f) founding year, (g) length of the CSR mission statement, and (h) compliance with
the guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative. Whereas the findings reveal that the companies
home country, degree of internationalization, and size have no considerable bearing on their CSR
communication, we evidence that their communication can be explained by their industry
affiliation, the profitability ratio return on assets, founding year, length of the statement, and
compliance with the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines. Moreover, we explain the
crosscountry conformity of CSR communication by a convergence towards global and universal
CSR communication approaches.
Companies around the globe are increasingly concerned about
communicating ethically and responsibly to their diverse stakeholders
(Breitbarth, Harris, & Insch, 2010), including the government, NGOs,
employees, investors, customers, suppliers, the media, and the general
public. Since companies face stakeholder scrutiny and pressure toward
their business conduct with respect to governance, employee
treatment, environmental issues, and community involvement, they
increasingly intend to not only disclose financial information but also
to report on the social and environmental impacts of their business
activities. Companies choose different corporate social responsibility
(CSR) communication channels to spread the respective information.
Whereas CSR reports are the most popular instrument to report on
the respective issues (KPMG, 2013), other instruments comprise
annual reports (Cerin, 2002), social and environmental reports
(Chatterji & Levine, 2006; HaddockFraser & Fraser, 2008;
Hooghiemstra, 2000), and corporate websites (Chapple & Moon,
2005; Coupland, 2005; GuimarãesCosta & Pina e Cunha, 2008; Lober,
Bynum, Campbell, & Jacques, 1997; Stanny & Ely, 2008).
In this context, mission statements expressing companiesCSR
and sustainability strategies have become increasingly important in
the public affairs portfolio of organizations. As condensed statements
of longterm goals and values, they are essential strategic tools for
internal and external communication. This importance is reflected
by the Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI) recommendation for
companies to provide a mission and strategy statement as a vital part
of their CSR communication. Thus, the inclusion of such a mission
statement in CSR reports, annual reports, or on corporate websites
has become a certain standard among large companies (GRI, 2011).
By adequately employing these diverse communication channels,
they are able to mitigate risks associated with CSR issues, comply
with inclusion criteria of certain indexes, increase their reputation,
and obtain legitimacy regarding stakeholders (Azzone, Brophy, Noci,
Welford, & Young, 1997; Esrock & Leichty, 1998; Reimsbach &
Hahn, 2013; Ziek, 2009). However, despite these significant poten-
tials, CSR communication is an oftenoverlooked component of
CSR research(Ziek, 2009, p. 137), because it is as vague and
ambiguous as the entire CSR concept (Coelho, McClure, & Spry,
2003; Frankental, 2001).
DOI: 10.1002/pa.1670
J Public Affairs. 2018;18:e1670.
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pa 1of16
Due to this fuzzy conceptualization, each company interprets
CSR individually, and the understanding of CSR displayed by an
organization is determined by several organizational as well as cul-
tural factors. Thus, a one size fits allapproach must clearly be
questioned. Matten and Moon (2008) showed that CSR is highly
contextual, because it depends upon a range of institutional frame-
work conditions, such as the political system, financial, cultural, and
education and labor system. Regarding CSR communication in spe-
cific, the respective social environment was also found to be of
influence (Baughn & McIntosh, 2007; Chapple & Moon, 2005;
Welford, Chan, & Man, 2008). Even the business unit in charge of
communication makes an impact on how CSR is conveyed
(Chamorro & Bañegil, 2006; Frankental, 2001; Hockerts & Moir,
2004). A very large number of studies have focused on variations
in CSR communication across countries, demonstrating significant
differences in international comparison (Adams, Hill, & Roberts,
1998; Adams & Kuasirikun, 2000; Bartolomeo et al., 2000; Birkin
& Jorgensen, 1994; Chapple & Moon, 2005; Chen & Bouvain,
2009; Cormier, Gordon, & Magnan, 2004; Gray, Radebaugh, &
Roberts, 1990; Guthrie & Parker, 1990; Halme & Huse, 1997;
Hartman, Rubin, & Dhanda, 2007; Holland & Foo, 2003; Kolk,
2003; Kolk, 2005; Kolk, 2008; Kolk, Walhain, & Van de Wateringen,
2001; Lober et al., 1997; Maignan & Ralston, 2002; Meek, Roberts,
& Gray, 1995; Morhardt, Baird, & Freeman, 2002; Morhardt, 2010;
Roberts, 1991; Smith, Adhikari, & Tondkar, 2005; Tsang, Welford,
& Brown, 2009; for an overview see Fifka, 2013). Yet, most of these
studies have solely evidenced divergences in the extent and content
of CSR reporting without considering possible contextual variables,
such as the political and socioeconomic environment, that affect
the reporting approach (Fifka & Drabble, 2012). Due to the
difficulty in isolating the contextual variables and the complex
relationship between cultural factors and [CSR] reporting(Adams,
2002, p. 225), there is only a limited number of comparative studies
that have coherently investigated the potential impact of cultural
factors and company characteristics (e.g., Buhr & Freedman, 2001;
Cormier et al., 2004; Fifka & Drabble, 2012; Guthrie & Parker,
1990; Steurer & Konrad, 2009).
In order to fill this research gap, this empirical study examines the
impact of the cultural context by focusing on the United States as an
industrialized country and on India as an example of an emerging global
economic power. We chose both countries based on the differences in
their cultural embeddedness and social awareness. As Matten and
Moon (2008) have explained, the United States can be classified as a
country where explicit CSR is practiced, which is voluntary in nature
and driven by the perceived expectations of different stakeholders.
India, on the contrary, has manifested longterm implicit CSR(Matten
& Moon, 2008, p. 418), which is valuesand normbased, and forged
by a strong societal consensus on the social responsibility of business.
Moreover, implicit CSR is also characterized by legally mandatory
components that enforce what is perceived as socially responsible
In order to investigate the different cultural contexts in both
countries, we apply Whitleys (1992, 1999, 2000a; 2000b) national
business systems approach, which focuses on institutions, as
theoretical basis. Regarding CSR communication as the target of
investigation of our paper, we build on Halls (1959, 1976) widely rec-
ognized distinction between highand lowcontext communication to
explain potential differences in the reporting practices of companies
from different countries. Before we explain both approaches and apply
them to the United States and India as basis for hypotheses
development, we briefly discuss the concepts of CSR and CSR
Afterwards, we empirically examine the potential impact of
national characteristics on CSR communication by conducting a
content analysis of CSR mission statements. We investigate their
content with respect to (a) the five CSR dimensions of Dahlsrud
(2008), (b) the five most prominent stakeholder groups according to
Freeman (1984), and (c) additional components of CSR mission
statements, based on the work of Bartkus, Glassman, and McAfee
(2004). The sample comprises the CSR mission statements of the
100 U.S. companies listed on the S&P 100 Index and 100 Indian
companies listed on the S&P CNX Nifty 50 Index and the S&P Nifty
50 Junior Index. Since previous studiesas we discussed abovehave
demonstrated the impact of company characteristics on CSR
communication, we further control for the influence of organizational
variables through linear regression. Thus, we develop a linear
regression model to test whether the (a) home country, (b) industry
sector, (c) degree of internationalization, (d) company size, (e)
corporate profitability, (f) founding year, (g) length of the CSR mission
statement, and (h) compliance with the GRI guidelines are
determinants of CSR communication. After presenting and discussing
the findings, we conclude by discussing the implications of our study
and by providing suggestions for future research.
Our study makes an important contribution to the existing CSR
literature in two ways. First, no study so far has analyzed how CSR
is communicated in mission statements, although they have become
a widely used media for CSR communicationmainly because of
the importance ascribed to mission statements by the GRI (GRI,
2011). Second, existing studies have neglected the investigation of
rhetorical CSR communication behaviors expressed through low
and highcontext cultures and their dedication to specific CSR issues
(Ziek, 2009).
Companies are increasingly being expected to apply moral
management and consider the interdependence between business
and society. Yet CSR has been defined in myriad ways(Husted &
Allen, 2007, p. 594), and the concept of how companies should
communicate their corporate responsibility has remained a fuzzy
one with unclear boundaries and debatable legitimacy(Lantos, 2001,
p. 595). Moreover, the term (corporate) sustainability is often used
synonymously to corporate social responsibility, which creates addi-
tional terminological confusion (Dahlsrud, 2008; ORiordan &
Fairbrass, 2008). Despite the fact that some scholars argue that CSR
is essentially a component of sustainability (Filho & Pawlak, 2009),
we refer to pertinent literature which understands both concepts as
congruent and thus uses both terms as synonyms (e.g., Hahn &
Kühnen, 2013).
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