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Since scholarly interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) has primarily focused on the synergies between social and economic performance, our understanding of how (and the conditions under which) companies use CSR to produce policy outcomes that work against public welfare has remained comparatively under-developed. In particular, little is known about how corporate decision-makers privately reconcile the conflicts between public and private interests, even though this is likely to be relevant to understanding the limitations of CSR as a means of aligning business activity with the broader public interest. This study addresses this issue using internal tobacco industry documents to explore British-American Tobacco's (BAT) thinking on CSR and its effects on the company's CSR Programme. The article presents a three-stage model of CSR development, based on Sykes and Matza's theory of techniques of neutralization, which links together: how BAT managers made sense of the company's declining political authority in the mid-1990s; how they subsequently justified the use of CSR as a tool of stakeholder management aimed at diffusing the political impact of public health advocates by breaking up political constituencies working towards evidence-based tobacco regulation; and how CSR works ideologically to shape stakeholders' perceptions of the relative merits of competing approaches to tobacco control. Our analysis has three implications for research and practice. First, it underlines the importance of approaching corporate managers' public comments on CSR critically and situating them in their economic, political and historical contexts. Second, it illustrates the importance of focusing on the political aims and effects of CSR. Third, by showing how CSR practices are used to stymie evidence-based government regulation, the article underlines the importance of highlighting and developing matrices to assess the negative social impacts of CSR.
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The Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility: Techniques
of Neutralization, Stakeholder Management and Political CSR
Gary Fooks
Anna Gilmore
Jeff Collin
Chris Holden
Kelley Lee
Received: 21 December 2009 / Accepted: 15 February 2012
The Author(s) 2012. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract Since scholarly interest in corporate social
responsibility (CSR) has primarily focused on the synergies
between social and economic performance, our under-
standing of how (and the conditions under which) com-
panies use CSR to produce policy outcomes that work
against public welfare has remained comparatively under-
developed. In particular, little is known about how corpo-
rate decision-makers privately reconcile the conflicts
between public and private interests, even though this is
likely to be relevant to understanding the limitations of
CSR as a means of aligning business activity with the
broader public interest. This study addresses this issue
using internal tobacco industry documents to explore
British-American Tobacco’s (BAT) thinking on CSR and
its effects on the company’s CSR Programme. The article
presents a three-stage model of CSR development, based
on Sykes and Matza’s theory of techniques of neutraliza-
tion, which links together: how BAT managers made sense
of the company’s declining political authority in the mid-
1990s; how they subsequently justified the use of CSR as a
tool of stakeholder management aimed at diffusing the
political impact of public health advocates by breaking up
political constituencies working towards evidence-based
tobacco regulation; and how CSR works ideologically to
shape stakeholders’ perceptions of the relative merits of
competing approaches to tobacco control. Our analysis has
three implications for research and practice. First, it
underlines the importance of approaching corporate man-
agers’ public comments on CSR critically and situating
them in their economic, political and historical contexts.
Second, it illustrates the importance of focusing on the
political aims and effects of CSR. Third, by showing how
CSR practices are used to stymie evidence-based govern-
ment regulation, the article underlines the importance of
highlighting and developing matrices to assess the negative
social impacts of CSR.
Keywords Corporate social responsibility Political CSR
Techniques of neutralization Stakeholder management
Corporate political activity
Abbreviations
ASH Action against smoking and health
BAT British-American tobacco
CORA Corporate and regulatory affairs department
CSR Corporate social responsibility
CSRP Corporate social responsibility programme
FCTC Framework convention of tobacco control
G. Fooks (&) A. Gilmore
Department of Health, University of Bath, Claverton Down,
Bath BA2 7AY, UK
e-mail: g.fooks@bath.ac.uk
A. Gilmore
e-mail: a.gilmore@bath.ac.uk
J. Collin
Global Health Policy, Centre for International Public Health
Policy, School of Health in Social Science,
University of Edinburgh, Medical Buildings,
Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK
e-mail: jeff.collin@ed.ac.uk
C. Holden
Social Policy and Social Work, University of York, Heslington,
York YO10 5DD, UK
e-mail: chris.holden@york.ac.uk
K. Lee
Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University,
Room 11322, Blusson Hall, 8888 University Drive,
Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada
e-mail: kelley_lee@sfu.ca
123
J Bus Ethics
DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1250-5
NGO Non-governmental organisation
RI Research international
Introduction
Notwithstanding attempts by public institutions such as the
European Commission (see, for example, Commission of
the European Communities, 2001, 2006) to define corpo-
rate social responsibility (CSR), the absence of a widely
agreed framework on CSR, which specifies minimum
outcome-based standards of social performance, creates an
enabling milieu for socially harmful companies which
externalise many of their costs to pass themselves off as
socially responsible. As well as being a member of Busi-
ness in the Community (Business in the Community,
undated), for example, BAE Systems has published annual
CSR reports since 2002 (BAE Systems 2002). This is
despite exporting military hardware to oppressive regimes
and allegedly using bribes in the sale of arms to developing
countries (Leigh and Evans 2009; R v BAE Systems PLC,
and campaign against the arms trade, undated). Likewise,
the world’s four largest private tobacco companies
1
have
highly developed CSR programmes (CSRPs) even though
tobacco use is the world’s leading cause of preventable
death and global tobacco-related mortality is projected to
rise to 8.3 million by 2030 (from 5.4 million in 2005),
surpassing the HIV epidemic as the leading cause of pre-
mature death (Mathers and Loncar 2006; Gilmore et al.
2006, 2009, 2011).
More to the point, research on the use of CSR by the
world’s two largest private tobacco companies—Philip
Morris (now Philip Morris and Philip Morris International)
and British-American Tobacco (BAT)—indicates that their
interest in the practice resides largely in its potential to
promote policy outcomes that work against public welfare.
Specifically, this study suggests that BAT and Philip
Morris use CSR politically to prevent the introduction of
legally enforceable tobacco control measures which have a
proven record of effectiveness in reducing tobacco con-
sumption. In practice, this has involved them using CSR to
broker access to public officials, influence the policy
alternatives under consideration by elected representatives,
break up opposing political constituencies, rebuild tobacco
companies’ reputations as providers of reliable information
and as a platform for strategic regulation—voluntary forms
of corporate governance that are designed to pre-empt
formal government regulation which has a proven record of
effectiveness in reducing tobacco consumption (Maxwell
et al. 2000; Collin and Gilmore 2002; World Health
Organization 2004; Action Against Smoking and Health,
Friends of the Earth and Action Aid 2005; Thomson 2005;
Palazzo and Richter 2005; Tesler and Malone 2008; Yang
and Malone 2008; McDaniel and Malone 2009; Fooks
et al. 2009; 2009; Fooks and Gilmore 2011).
In this last respect, existing research shows how BAT,
the subject of this study, and other transnational tobacco
companies have promoted three key self-regulatory initia-
tives through their CSR programmes (CSRPs), namely: an
international code on marketing which aimed to pre-empt
the introduction of legally binding restrictions (Mamudu
et al. 2008); ineffective alternatives to public smoking bans
based on ventilation and air filtration (Sarnet et al., 2005;
Leavell et al., 2006; Muggli et al. 2008); and youth
smoking prevention schemes—largely ineffective mea-
sures aimed at dissuading policymakers of the need for
general marketing restrictions (Landman et al. 2002; Ass-
unta and Chapman 2004; Henriksen et al. 2006; Sebrie
´
and
Glantz 2007; Apollonio and Malone 2010). By aiming to
replace forms of corporate governance that are strongly
associated with improved public health outcomes with
alternatives for which there is no evidence of effectiveness,
these initiatives raise two questions which have potentially
far-reaching significance for the contemporary governance
of CSR. What do tobacco industry executives think about
using CSR against the public welfare and how do these
ways of thinking shape, and work within, CSRPs?
1
Outside of China, these four companies—British American
Tobacco (BAT), Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco Interna-
tional and Imperial Tobacco—constitute an effective global oligopoly
with a combined global market share (inclusive of China) of just over
50% (Hedley 2007; Callard 2010). Smoking causes fatal and
disabling disease, and, compared with other risky behaviours, the
risk of premature death is extremely high. Half of all long-term
smokers will eventually be killed by tobacco, and of these, half will
die during productive middle age, losing 20–25 years of life. The
choice to smoke differs from the choice to buy other consumer goods
in three key ways. First, many smokers are not fully aware of the high
risks of disease and premature death of smoking. In China in 1996, for
example, 61% of smokers questioned thought that tobacco did them
‘little or no harm’. In high-income countries, smokers know they face
increased risks, but they judge the size of these risks to be lower and
less well established than non-smokers, and they also minimise the
personal relevance of these risks. Second, smoking (which is usually
started in adolescence or early adulthood) is addictive. Most new
recruits underestimate the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine. In
high-income countries, individual attempts to quit have low success
rates: of those who try without the assistance of cessation pro-
grammes, about 98% will have started again within a year. In low-
and middle-income countries, quitting is rare. As a result, they
seriously underestimate the future costs of smoking. Third, smoking
imposes health and financial costs on non smokers. In high-income
countries, for example, smoking-related healthcare accounts for
between 6 and 15% of all annual healthcare costs. In any given year,
smokers’ healthcare costs on average exceed those of non-smokers’.
Further, reviews in high-income countries suggest that smokers’
lifetime costs are higher than non-smokers, despite their shorter lives
(World Bank 1999; Tobacco Free Initiative 2006; Office for National
Statistics 2009 and 2011).
G. Fooks et al.
123
Methodology
This article aims to address these questions using tobacco
industry documents made publicly available (http://legacy.
library.ucsf.edu/index.html) following litigation in the US to
explore how BAT managers’ interpretation of the com-
pany’s declining political authority
2
shaped its CSRP. An
iterative approach was taken to searching the archive. Initial
searches used broad terms such as social reporting and CSR,
and the documents returned from these searches were used
to identify narrower search terms, such as the names of key
individuals. Searches were performed between April 2008
and July 2009. In total, 143 search terms were used to
retrieve 7,987 documents (many of which were duplicates).
From these, over 1,784 documents were studied in detail and
indexed. Analysis was informed by Forster’s (1994)approach
to company document analysis which was complemented
using archival techniques discussed by Hill (1993).
There are a number of potential problems in using com-
pany documents to construct in-depth accounts of compa-
nies’ activities and strategies. Comments contained in
emails, presentation notes and strategy papers, for instance,
may be capable of multiple interpretations, may not repre-
sent the views of all senior managers and can be coloured by
personal ambition and office politics. Despite this, they are
likely to provide a more reliable guide to corporate decision-
makers’ thinking and motivations than interviews which can
produce self-serving responses where corporate or profes-
sional reputations are at stake. We address some of the
problems associated with documentary data by cross-refer-
encing material contained in internal correspondence
(including presentation notes) and strategy papers with an
analysis of interviews with senior BAT head office staff
undertaken by the market research company, Research
International (RI). Contracted 2 years prior to the develop-
ment of BAT’s CSRP, RI was asked to collate ideas about
how the company’s public affairs department, CORA
(Corporate and Regulatory Affairs) might develop its com-
munications strategy to minimise growing regulatory and
litigation risks. RI carried out 12 in depth interviews in
December 1996 under the Market Research Society code
which is designed to ensure confidentiality and, therefore,
optimises the likelihood of responses reflecting honestly
held beliefs (Research International, 1997a, pp. 1–5, 1997b).
Conceptual Approach and Structure of Paper
Our analysis draws on and develops Sykes and Matza’s
concept of techniques of neutralization, cognitive devices
that social actors use to justify, excuse, or in some other
way rationalise behaviour that flouts social norms (Sykes
and Matza 1957). Sykes and Matza identified five tech-
niques—denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of
the victim, condemnation of the condemners, and appeal to
higher loyalties (see Table 1)—to explain juvenile delin-
quency; their basic premise being that non-observance of
social rules is causally linked to a person’s ability to
rationalise transgression by drawing upon a cultural res-
ervoir of motivational vocabularies found in legal princi-
ples and dominant cultural norms (Cohen 1993).
Subsequent authors have added to Sykes and Matza’s ori-
ginal list of techniques (Table 1) and applied the concept to
other offences (see, for example, Cressey 1953; Conklin
1977; Klockars 1974; Minor 1981; Konovsky and Jaster
1989; Szwajkowski 1992; Cohen 1993, 2001; Piquero et al.
2005; and Gray 2006) as well as non-criminal behaviour
(see, for example, Thompson 1980; McGraw 1990 and
Bovens et al. 1999). In this article, we show how corporate
decision-makers, when facing a combination of social
censure and increased regulatory risk (manifestations of
declining political authority), at first reject and then contest
the arguments of policy entrepreneurs and reform minded
policymakers using techniques of neutralization in a pro-
cess that we model into three stages (see Fig. 1).
In the first stage, reliance by corporate decision-makers
on techniques of neutralization provides the basis for
declining political authority to be seen as a problem arising
from poorly designed and co-ordinated political strategies
(rather than a growing awareness of the company’s conduct
and its social impacts). During the second stage, corporate
decision-makers start attributing the company’s declining
political authority to external social actors and proceed to
design alternative—and potentially more effective—forms
of political management (namely CSR) to annul their
impact. Techniques of neutralization expedite this process
by providing corporate officials with a resource of justifi-
cations that legitimise using CSR politically as a platform
of stakeholder management. In the third stage, corporate
decision-makers embed techniques of neutralization within
the firm’s CSRP to legitimise CSR practices that work
against public welfare (by reducing political support for
regulatory change). Neutralization is primarily used to
produce this last effect by framing opposition to regulatory
change as consistent with the broader public interest, cre-
ating a distinction between sensible and unreasonable
regulation, and building a constructive case for the com-
pany’s existing commercial freedoms.
By extending Sykes and Matza’s original concept to
illustrate the important role neutralization plays in defending
core organisational goals, we not only highlight the political
and ideological dimensions of CSR, but also illustrate two
interesting characteristics of techniques of neutralization
2
We use political authority rather than political power to convey the
decreasing acceptance amongst policy e
´
lites of the legitimacy of
tobacco industry political power.
The Limits of CSR
123
that have not been discussed in the published literature. First,
by demonstrating the way in which techniques are used at
the corporate level (within BAT’s CSRP), our analysis
points to the importance of conceptualising them as political
tools and not simply cognitive devices (see Table 1). Sec-
ond, our discussion also highlights the importance of power
in facilitating actors’ ability to neutralise behaviour on a
societal level. As we show below, corporate decision-mak-
ers seem to be both uncommonly resourceful in developing
new techniques from contra-regulatory arguments devel-
oped by the tobacco industry over the last 40 years (see
Table 1) and, importantly, highly creative in developing
new political forms, such as CSR, to legitimise and publicise
them. This, we propose, is suggestive of a link between
social power and both the range of techniques available to
specific classes of social actors and their capacity to
broadcast them widely. For juvenile delinquents (and other
relatively powerless social actors), neutralization is local,
largely internalised and concerned primarily with aligning
individual action with broader social norms. In contrast, for
corporate actors, neutralization can also be organisational,
highly public and concerned with aligning broader social
norms with corporate action (see also Yang and Malone
2008).
Table 1 Techniques of neutralization as they apply to corporate actors
Source Primary technique Explanation
Sykes and Matza
(1957)
Denial of responsibility Social actor indicates that harmful behaviour is the result of circumstances or other
factors beyond their control
Condemnation of
condemners
Social actor shifts the focus of attention from their own harmful behaviour by
raising questions about the motives and behaviour of those who disapprove of their
actions
Denial of harm or injury Social actor either claims their behaviour is not harmful or disputes the amount of
harm caused.
Denial of the victim Social actor either claims those harmed deserved it or exploits the fact that victims
are physically absent, unknown or a vague abstraction
Appeal to higher loyalties/
authority
Social actor claims behaviour was necessary to conform to the norms of other
groups or codes which take precedence over the rules of society or the interests of
harmed individuals
Klockars (1974) Metaphor of Ledger Social actor characterises their actions as an aberration which is offset by past,
ongoing and future good behaviour
Thompson (1980) Dispersal of blame/transfer
of responsibility
Social actors dilute the degree to which they are responsible for harmful behaviour
by claiming responsibility for the problem is shared amongst a number of social
actors
Minor (1981) Defence of Necessity Social actor mitigates blame by claiming their actions were necessary
Bandura (1990) Dehumanisation of victim A variant of denying victimhood, where those harmed by social actor’s behaviour
are considered not truly worthy of sympathy or compassion
Present paper Misrepresentation (denial)
of the evidence
A variation of denial of harm where corporate actors question the evidence for
regulatory intervention by characterising firm arguments relating to regulation as
reflecting a fair, balanced or reasonable assessment of the available evidence
The defence of legality By pointing to the legality of their product/actions, corporate actors excuse their
negative impact on public welfare and justify the existing liberty of action of the
company
For the good of the cause/
for the greater good
A variant of appealing to higher loyalties. Corporate actor claims their behaviour
was/is for the greater good, producing long-term consequences that serve as a
justification of their actions
Expression of right A variant of appealing to higher loyalties where corporate actors justify behaviour
with reference to (unspecified) universal rights that protect business freedoms
Protection of the weak A variant of appealing to higher loyalties where corporate actors claim that
behaviour (producing socially suboptimal outcomes) is justified to protect the
interests of other, less powerful groups
Assertion of rationality A variant of condemnation of the condemners where, by making claims about what
is reasonable, fair, constructive and proportionate, the corporate actor questions
the reasonableness, fairness, etc., of its detractors
The world has moved on Corporate actor claims that shifts in public attitudes rather than own their own
behaviour explains public condemnation
G. Fooks et al.
123
Stage One: Declining Political Authority Conceived
by Corporate Decision-Makers as a Technical Problem
of Political Management
Declining Political Authority
Historically, the considerable influence tobacco companies
enjoyed over public policy making (Nathanson 2005) was
predicated on the widespread assumption that the industry
made a net contribution to national economies (Holden and
Lee 2009). In some countries, this perception was rein-
forced by political contributions to elected representatives,
and considerable investment in traditional forms of cor-
porate political activity aimed, amongst other things, at
building strategic alliances with other social actors (Dear-
love et al. 2002; Ritch and Begay 2001), covertly funding
and generally influencing scientific research (see, for
example, Gru
¨
ning, et al. 2006; Hardell et al. 2007), and
shaping the underlying political ideas upon which the
tobacco control agenda was set (Cohen et al. 2000). The
result, in many countries, was a largely self-regulatory
approach to tobacco control (Nathanson 2005). By the
1990s, however, four developments had combined to sig-
nificantly weaken the industry’s political power.
The first was the widespread acceptance, amongst the
public and political e
´
lites, that smoking was addictive, was
the cause of serious morbidity and mortality and, in the case
of second-hand smoke, represented a significant health
hazard to non-smokers (see, for example, Marshall 2010).
This greatly strengthened the lobbying position of public
health advocates (Nathanson 2005). Second, stimulated by
research by the World Bank (Warner and Fulton 1995;
Warner et al. 1996; World Bank 1999), there was a growing
realisation of the negative economic impact of the tobacco
industry. Political e
´
lites increasingly came to understand
that, unlike other industrial sectors, the commercial interests
of the tobacco industry were not necessarily consistent with
the national economic interest (Holden and Lee 2009). The
third concerns the effects of the release of internal tobacco
industry documents into the public domain on public per-
ceptions of the industry. Amongst other things, these doc-
uments indicated that the industry had understood (but
publicly denied) the carcinogenic nature of its product since
at least the 1950s and its addictive nature since the 1960s
was involved in aggressively defending the freedom to
market a product that had been chemically altered to
increase its addictiveness; had targeted the young in mar-
keting campaigns; had knowingly promoted ‘low-tar’ ciga-
rettes to offer false reassurance without health benefits and
had sought to undermine the scientific debate on the health
effects of second-hand smoke (Janofsky 1994; Glantz et al.
1996; Test Research 2000; Cummings et al. 2002; Bates and
Rowell 2004). These revelations led to cigarette manufac-
turers being openly demonised as merchants of death who
preyed on children and led to reduced trust in the industry
amongst policymakers and publics which also greatly
Techniques of Neutralisation
Techniques of Neutralisation Political CSROrganisational Myths
(Psychological framing) (Organisational framing)
(
I
d
e
o
l
o
g
i
c
a
l
f
r
a
m
i
n
g
)
source: conceived in response to
criticism of the company
level of impact: work at the level
of individual psychology /
cognition
function
:
provide a series of excuses to
and justifications for firm
criticism
allow managers to conceive of
themselves and their company
as socially responsible in the
absence of substantive attempts
to address the basis of criticism
effect
:
form the underlying justification
of socially suboptimal CSR
legitimise organisational myths
(see Stage 2) that lead to the
establishment of socially
suboptimal CSR programmes
source: evolve in conjunction with (and
are informed by) techniques of
neutralization to explain why regulatory,
reputational and litigation risks and
problems emerge
level of impact:
communicated within the company by
senior managers to provide an
organisational narrative that links firm
criticism to external/public/political
affairs failure
adapted by senior managers to direct
the company’s response to regulatory,
reputational and litigation risks
function:
creates proximate justification for
socially sub-optimal CSR which
prioritises stakeholder management
over substantive organisational change
that might reduce externalities
provides an organisational narrative
around which funds can be diverted
towards political innovation
effect:
forms a proximate driver of innovation
in company political activity
forms a proximate driver of CSRPs that
work against the public welfare
Declining Political
Authority
source
:
publicly funded science
public health advocacy
exposure of industry political activity
understanding of full economic impacts
of industry activity and its product
growth of well networked political
constituencies opposing and
monitoring the industry
level of impact
:
courts
legislature and executive
news media
scientific / academic journals
public health and academic
conferences
political lobbying by civil society
organisations and other public health
advocates
function:
eases introduction of effective tobacco
control regulation
achieves improved public health
outcomes
effect:
reduced firm legitimacy
loss of (industry’s) insider status
licence to operate curtailed
loss of political influence
source
: builds on individual techniques of
neutralization and is supported by
organisational myths
level of impact:
communicated through CSR platforms
such as firm CSR literature and social
reports
aimed primarily at either political
stakeholders or other stakeholders
who may affect how political
stakeholders think and act
function:
aims to manage stakeholder perceptions
by: shifting the basis upon which the
company is judged; questioning the
workability of proposed solutions;
defining the appropriate boundaries of
government action; defining
(misrepresenting) the prevailing state of
scientific knowledge; questioning the
motivations of policy entrepreneurs and
policymakers; providing a moral basis for
the firm’s political activity
designed to reshape the company’s
political environment by reconfiguring
political constituencies and changing the
way in which political decision-makers
think and act
effect: makes CSR more acceptable as
underlying political motivations remain
hidden
Stage ThreeStage TwoStage One
Fig. 1 A process model of political CSR
The Limits of CSR
123
strengthened the political influence of public health advo-
cates (U.S. Newswire 1997; Test Research 2000; Carter and
Chapman 2003; Nathanson 2005; Palazzo and Richter 2005;
Hurt et al. 2009; Haltom et al. 2009). Finally, analysis of
company documents has increased knowledge of the
industry’s heavy reliance on the third party technique in
building political constituencies and lobbying policy e
´
lites.
This has weakened the effect of this strategy by alerting both
policymakers and public health advocates to the interests
behind political activity relating to the regulation and con-
trol of tobacco (Hurt et al. 2009; Smith et al. 2010; Arnott
2011).
These developments set the conditions for a gradual
increase in statutory backed tobacco regulation in the
1990s (see, for example, Aspect Consortium 2004, p. 104)
and the decision by the World Health Assembly in 1999 to
push ahead with work on the World Health Organisation
(WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
(FCTC)
3
which is currently driving both implementation of
tobacco control measures globally and the increasing
exclusion of the industry from policymaking (Smith et al.
2009; Fooks et al. 2011). Whilst BAT executives recog-
nised these effects as symptomatic of its declining political
influence (see, for example, Broughton 1998; BAT 2000a;
Marshall 2000a; BAT 2001), they primarily understood the
cause of the problem in terms of weaknesses in the com-
pany’s political strategy. RI reported that its interviewees
held ‘very strong views’ that both BAT and the industry
were ‘at fault’ for allowing ‘the current negative climate to
be established’, having permitted negative information ‘to
frame the debate’ because of a lack of ‘proactivity’
(Research International 1997a, pp. 29, 46 and 49).
Neutralising Social Censure
Research International’s report strongly suggests that the
apparent inability of BAT’s managers to seriously consider
and give credence to the work of public health advocates,
economists and policymakers which underlay the indus-
try’s decline in political authority was attributable to their
heavy reliance on techniques of neutralization. Amongst
other things, it recorded ‘a high level of resentment and
frustration that individuals faced a wholly negatively
framed public debate’, in which staff believed ‘views [had]
become seen as facts, when this was not the case’
(Research International 1997a; see also Marshall 2000a).
By questioning the evidence upon which arguments for
greater tobacco control were based, BAT managers indi-
rectly denied responsibility for tobacco-related harm
(denial of responsibility). Further, by highlighting the
contrasting regulatory fortunes of other socially harmful
industrial sectors with a history of externalising their costs
they also implicitly questioned the fairness of increased
regulation (condemning the condemners). For example, RI
reported that respondents felt it was ‘inconceivable that
governments would be as prescriptive with other types of
company going about their ‘normal business practices’’’
and claimed that ‘the treatment of the cigarette industry
relative to others such as the drinks and car industries was a
major point of contention’ (Research International 1997a,
p. 32). This point was made particularly strongly in relation
to advertising restrictions which managers found ‘infu-
riat[ing]’ given the ‘inherent unfairness in the way ciga-
rettes, as a legal product, were treated versus other
products’ (Research International, 1997a, p.32).
Questioning the fairness of increasing tobacco regula-
tion by emphasising tobacco’s status as a legal product
represented the key technique relied upon by managers (the
defence of legality). RI noted that, ‘Whilst there was an
acceptance of various tobacco/smoking issues being prob-
lematic, or delicate, the factor which was mentioned again
and again was that BAT [was] marketing a legal product
and therefore [had] the right to be active (Research
International 1997a, p. 30). According to RI, there was ‘a
real sense of injustice that tobacco, amongst other legal
products, should come in for the criticism it did’. As one of
RI’s respondents put it, ‘the simple fact’ was that ‘smoking
[was] an activity much as dressmaking which [had] not
been declared illegal anywhere in the world’ (Research
International 1997a, p. 30). The defence of legality illus-
trates how corporate officials combine elements of existing
techniques to shield themselves from external criticism.
First, it implies a diminished awareness of the victim and
the harm associated with tobacco (denial of victim and
harm). Second, by essentialising the legal status of tobacco,
the technique implies the existence of inalienable legal
rights to cause harm which take precedence over the harm
caused by tobacco (expression of right). Finally, by
embedding the defence of legality within a broader narra-
tive of unfairness and inconsistency, it questions the
motives of those calling for greater regulation (condemning
the condemners).
By providing corporate decision-makers with a cogni-
tive resource to discard the scientific studies, economic
analysis and public health advocacy that underlay the
firm’s declining political authority neutralization facilitated
the development of CSR as a political tool in two important
respects. First, it validated poor political management as
the primary, or obvious, explanation for declining political
authority by effectively invalidating competing explana-
tions. Second, and more importantly, it helped reinforce an
organisational culture in which using CSR politically was
regarded as ethically sound and legitimate.
3
http://www.who.int/features/2003/en/08_gallery2.html, accessed
20.10.09.
G. Fooks et al.
123
Stage Two: Corporate Decision-Makers Design
Alternative Forms of Political Management
and Identify External Sources as the Cause
of the Company’s Declining Political Authority
Criticism of BAT’s political strategy by RI’s interviewees
reflected a view expressed in earlier documents that the
firm’s corporate affairs function was disjointed, poorly
integrated across BAT’s operating companies and poorly
resourced (see, for example, Proctor 1995a). This led to a
new department, CORA (Corporate and Regulatory Affairs
Department) being established, with responsibility for co-
ordinating the company’s political activity.
CORA’s first action plan had simply constituted a syn-
thesis of pre-existing political tactics (BAT 1995; Proctor
1995b; Opukah 1997). Additional assurances by senior
management that the new department would be ‘more
proactive’ in ‘better positioning the scientific argument’
and providing operating companies with additional support
to ‘voice the case’ were given (Herter 1995). However, in
the absence of new ideas about how this might be put into
effect, it did not constitute a convincing strategy for
improving BAT’s political authority. Other research by RI
had found that the industry lacked credibility as a source of
information on the relationship between smoking and dis-
ease (Research International 1997b, p. 83; see also Test
Research 2000) and that conventional modes of political
activity, which focused on raising doubts about the harm
caused by both smoking and second-hand smoke, simply
hardened government officials’ perceptions of the industry
as untrustworthy (Research International 1997b).
4
In this
context, understanding the company’s loss of political
authority as an issue of political management created the
organisational impetus to experiment with alternative
modes of political activity. RI’s interviewees specifically
argued for measures that provided ‘an alternate stan-
cerather than an oppositional one’ (Research Interna-
tional 1997a, p. 37) and suggested that this could be
achieved by repackaging the firm’s ‘philanthropic activi-
ties’ and experimenting with tactics that centred on
improving the company’s reputation (Research Interna-
tional 1997a, p. 38).
RI made this a key recommendation of its report and it
was later embedded in CORA’s strategic objective which
aimed to generate a perception of BAT as a responsible
company in a controversial industry (Prideaux and Smith
1999; BAT 2000b). This approach was judged to be
capable of producing two key benefits. First, it was con-
sidered to be a potentially powerful agenda setting device
(Research International 1997a; see also Brendan Brady,
former director of corporate and regulatory affairs for BAT
Australasia cited in Burton and Rowell 2002 and Prideaux
2000). This was particularly thought to apply in developing
economies where, according to one RI interviewee, greater
levels of ignorance over tobacco and health ‘issues’ gave
BAT a ‘much better chance of being able to manage the
situation (Research International 1997a, p. 30)’. Second, it
was regarded as an effective way of protecting employees
from criticism by friends and family of deceased smokers
they met outside of work (Research International 1997a,
pp. 33–34, 36). Some staff were unapologetic, refusing to
express contrition on the basis of the considerable time and
effort they put into their work (Research International
1997a, p. 34). However, most of RI’s interviewees wanted
the company to take a more active role in managing the
impressions of others (Research International 1997a, p. 35;
Goffman 1959). BAT staff, it seems, saw CSR as a
resource they could draw on to defend themselves in social
settings by maintaining their preferred definition of the
company and, therefore, themselves.
To understand how these aims were put into effect, some
understanding of the link between techniques of neutral-
ization and organisational myths is required. We use the
term organisational myth in this discussion to refer to a
narrative form or frame which defines problems, identifies
their causes, makes moral judgements about them and offers
solutions for their resolution (Entman 1993). They play a
central role in the creation of organisational cultures and are
either actively developed by senior managers, in the context
of managed communication to shape the shared beliefs and
values of employees (Kaye 1995) or simply emerge through
shared stories and accounts independently of managed
communication (Cohen and Prusak 2001). BAT documents
suggest that CORA employees repackaged several tech-
niques of neutralization into a myth of political persecution
which was then used in the company’s strategy documents
and managed communication to both legitimise and guide
the development of, the company’s CSRP.
The essence of the myth was that declining political
authority was attributable to the potency of public health
advocates. Advocates were characterised as voluble,
extreme and highly effective at securing public consent for
new forms of tobacco control using ‘emotionally charged’
arguments (Marshall 2000a, p. 2; BAT 2000c, p. 4; We-
ishaar et al. under review). The widespread scepticism
BAT encountered as a result was described as an ‘emo-
tional wall’—a metaphor used by CORA officials to
encapsulate BAT’s marginalisation in policymaking and
public debate (Marshall 2000a, p. 5).
By defining the public as passive recipients of infor-
mation, and public health advocates as emotive and
extreme, BAT’s management collapsed two mutually
reinforcing ideas into the myth—that the mainstream case
4
Some BAT staff also believed it had the effect of stiffening their
resolve to introduce statutory regulation (Marshall 2000b, p. 3).
The Limits of CSR
123
against tobacco was non-objective and unscientific and that
the company’s position was reasonable and sensible
(Marshall 2000b). These ideas (which implicitly denied the
harm associated with tobacco products, condemned the
company’s condemners and asserted the company’s own
rationality—see Table 1) were applied to all stakeholders
seeking to use legal and political channels to hold BAT to
account. Thus, judges and plaintiff lawyers were accused
of attempting to ‘rig trials’, the WHO was portrayed as
promoting extreme and unreasonable regulation (Weishaar
et al. under review) and the House of Commons Select
Committee investigating the tobacco industry was dis-
missed as ‘an ill informed and poorly briefed ‘kangaroo
court’ convened to harass the industry in an attempt to
harden public opinion and enable them to push through
tougher regulation’ (Marshall 2000a). By maintaining these
myths and simultaneously asserting that the company’s
‘primary responsibility’ of commercial success was good
for the countries in which it operated (BAT 1998) (the
good of the cause), BAT managers essentially manufac-
tured the moral justification for CSR to be used politically
to align the views of external stakeholders with the com-
mercial interests of the firm.
In practice, the company sought to achieve this using
stakeholder engagement to reduce the influence of public
health advocates over stakeholders’ opinions about tobacco
regulation (BAT 2000c). Engagement was organised around
six ‘reputation management initiatives’, which covered
issues such as consumer information, ‘responsible market-
ing’ and youth smoking prevention. Stakeholder analysis,
planning, engagement and communication were identified
as central to developing these initiatives (BAT, undated-a).
An extensive stakeholder mapping exercise was planned
(BAT 2000d). This involved identifying individuals and
institutions who were likely to have ‘the greatest impact on
BAT’s ability to do business’ and categorising them
according to whether they were decision-makers (actors
having an immediate impact on ‘BAT’s ability to achieve
long-term growth’) or influencers (actors able to exert
influence over the views and activities of decision-makers or
influential groups such as media and pressure groups). Once
identified, stakeholders were surveyed to assess their rela-
tive enmity towards BAT and the potential flexibility of their
views (BAT 2000d, e). The results were converted to a
numerical rating, reflecting stakeholders’ ‘attitude’ and
‘flexibility’, and then integrated into a series of maps to
identify ‘decision-makers’ and ‘influencers’ who should be
‘strategically managed from the centre’ [emphasis added]
(BAT 2000d, g, h, undated-b, undated-a, undated-c).
‘Managed’ can take on different meanings, depending
on the context in which it is applied. BAT documents
suggest that it implied a highly active process of impres-
sion management. A key element of this was to create
divisions within alliances favouring evidence-based
tobacco control and reduce support for them amongst the
general public (BAT 2000c, d, f, g, h, undated-b, undated-
a). In the section below, we focus on how the company
uses neutralization in its Framework for CSR (hereafter
referred to as Framework) as an ideological or framing
tool
5
to produce this effect.
Stage Three: Techniques of Neutralization,
Issue-Framing and Political CSR
Developed in the context of formal dialogue with stake-
holders (see BAT 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005), the Frame-
work—a lengthy document running to just under 5,000
words which constitutes BAT’s roadmap for corporate
responsibility—is split into three levels. The first level
comprises three organising ‘business principles’ [‘mutual
benefit’
6
(Table 2) ‘responsible product stewardship’
7
(Table 3) and ‘good corporate conduct’
8
], which correspond
to a series of ‘core beliefs’ (the second level) that provide the
basic structure of the Framework (Tables 2, 3). The third
level contains a series of proposed actions and suggested
responsibilities for BAT, policymakers and NGOs that are
presented as a blueprint for socially responsible tobacco
production, distribution and consumption (Tables 2, 3).
Until 2006, the Framework was published in BAT’s
social reports and selectively quoted in response to points
raised by stakeholders (see, for example, BAT 2005). At
5
A frame is defined here as a means of packaging and positioning an
issue in terms of defining the problem, diagnosing its causes making
normative judgments and suggesting remedies (Entman 1993). The
effects of issue-framing on public opinion are well documented
(Vaughan and Seifert 1992; Jacoby 2000; Schneider and Jacoby
2005), but it is also thought to play a central role in the formation of
public health policy. In a review of the legislative and regulatory
history of tobacco control in the USA, for example, Jacobson et al.
(1997) found that policymakers’ ability to introduce tobacco control
legislation was closely related to how the legislative debate was
framed, with efforts to enact legislation stalling when the debate
shifted to issues about personal freedoms (see also Wallack et al.
1993).
6
This is defined as the basis on which the company builds its
relationships with its stakeholders. It states that the company is
primarily in the business of building long-term shareholder value and
it emphasises the belief that the best way to do this is to seek to
understand and take account of the needs of all the company’s
stakeholders.
7
This is defined as the basis on which the company meets consumer
demand for a legal product that is a cause of serious diseases. It states
that the company’s products and brands should be developed,
manufactured and marketed in a responsible manner and emphasises
that the company aspires to develop tobacco products with mass
appeal that will, over time, be recognised by scientific and regulatory
authorities as posing substantially reduced risks to health.
8
This emphasises the importance of observing high standards of
behaviour and integrity throughout the company’s operation.
G. Fooks et al.
123
the time of writing, it is no longer produced in the com-
pany’s new Sustainability Reports, but remains available
on the company’s website (BAT, undated-d). The core
beliefs (second level), proposed actions and suggested
responsibilities (third level) relating to the principles of
mutual benefit and responsible product stewardship contain
a number of techniques of neutralization that BAT has
drawn on to validate political activity aimed at opposing
the introduction of widely supported (and evidence
based—see, for example, Hopkins et al. 2010) forms of
tobacco control (see, for example, BAT, undated-e; BAT,
undated-f; BAT, undated-g; BAT, undated-h). By pre-
scribing how the relative strengths of competing approa-
ches to controlling tobacco products should be conceived
by politically influential stakeholders (such as policy e
´
lites
and civil society groups), these parts of the Framework
play an important role in BAT’s efforts to shape the agenda
for tobacco control (Brendan Brady, former co-director of
CORA BAT Australasia, cited in Burton and Rowell 2002;
see also Millson 1999; McCombs et al. 1997).
To illustrate this effect, we have extracted the tech-
niques of neutralization embedded in the principles of
‘mutual benefit’ and ‘responsible product stewardship’ in
Tables 2 and 3. By collectively promoting proprietary and
other economic interests over-and-above public health, the
techniques we identify work to justify BAT’s existing
commercial freedoms (hereafter described as regulatory
conservatism) and define political activity that works
against public welfare as socially responsible.
Regulatory conservatism is defended partly in terms of
the importance of protecting shareholders’ and smokers’
rights (expression of right/appeal to higher loyalty/
Table 2 Techniques of neutralization contained in proposed actions and suggested responsibilities associated with the principle of mutual
benefit (BAT, undated-d)
Level one (core beliefs) Level two (proposed actions and suggested responsibilities) Technique of neutralization
We believe in creating
long-term shareholder
value
‘[BAT] is owned by shareholders whose rightful expectation is that
we should grow its profitability bycompeting effectively for
market share
Expression of right
Appeal to higher loyalties
‘we see it as the responsibility of governmentsto uphold consumers’
rights and freedoms of choice’
Condemnation of condemners
we willwork with governments to preserve the rights
ofadultsto choose the products and brands they prefer’
Protection of the weak
Appeal to higher loyalties
‘we willwork with all relevant stakeholders for preservation of
opportunities foradults to consume tobacco products’
Protection of the weak
Appeal to higher loyalties
‘we see it as the responsibility of governmentsto uphold our right to
conduct a legal and competitive business’
Defence of legality
Expression of right
‘we see it as the responsibility of governmentsto make balanced
decisions based on sound evidence’
Condemnation of condemners
‘we willwork with governments to preserve the rights of informed
adult consumers’
Protection of the weak
Appeal to higher loyalties
‘we share a role with other parts of society in respecting the rights and
freedoms of informed adults to consume tobacco products’
Protection of the weak
Appeal to higher loyalties
‘tobacco products are legal, significant demand for them existsand
informed adults have rights to consume them and to choose the
brands they prefer’
Protection of the weak
Appeal to higher loyalties
Defence of legality
‘we have a role in helping to preserve our consumers’ rights’ Protection of the weak
Appeal to higher loyalties
We believe in adding value
to the communities in
which we operate
‘as corporate citizensour companies have a role in investing in local
economic, social and cultural developmenthost communities can
benefit from this
For the good of the cause
it [is] the role of governments and regulatory authorities to create
environments where business can thrive &contribute to local
economic, social & environmental development’
Condemnation of condemners
‘we will assist by explaining to governments and regulatory
authorities the conditions within which business can thrive’
For the good of the cause
We believe in engaging
constructively with our
stakeholders
‘we see it as the responsibility of our stakeholders, including our
critics, to engage constructively with us’
Condemnation of condemners
Transfer of responsibility
The Limits of CSR
123
protection of the weak) and partly in terms of the economic
contribution that BAT’s investment makes to ‘host com-
munities’ (for the good of the cause). The internal logic of
these propositions is maintained by relying on other less
explicit techniques that ignore the epistemological com-
plexities involved in building a case for the manufacture
and sale of tobacco as socially responsible. Hence, the idea
that BAT’s investment benefits communities glosses over
the net economic harm of tobacco manufacture (misrep-
resentation of the evidence/denial of harm) (World Bank
1999) and the moral validity of both claims is underwritten
by misleading references to the health effects of second-
hand smoke as a ‘source of annoyance’ and of a health
concern only to ‘some public health authorities’ (misrep-
resentation of the evidence/denial of harm). Finally, by
asserting the company’s privileged access to rationality
(assertion of rationality) through constant use of terms such
as balanced and proportionate, the Framework formalises
an intellectual basis for the faux distinction between sen-
sible and unreasonable regulation—a contrast BAT has
consistently used to support regulation in principle but
contest it in practice (BAT (Mauritius) 2004; BAT 2000i).
BAT defends socially suboptimal political activity by
characterising it as a crucial tool for achieving a balanced
approached to health policy which protects the interests of
shareholders and smokers. By requesting balance, the
company effectively represents itself as a neutral broker of
equally competing interests and, therefore, its political
activity as arbitration, rather than partisan lobbying. Fur-
thermore, by emphasising the rights and effective disen-
franchisement of shareholders and smokers BAT also links
its political work to the defence of minority interests and
inalienable rights (protecting the weak/expression of right).
The persuasive power of this approach derives partly from
the fact that it inverts the nature of the relationship between
the company and its customers and partly from the fact that
it sets the company’s political activity within the traditions
of classic liberalism. Smokers, particularly those who
begin smoking before adulthood
9
and who express a desire
to quit,
10
are victims in the conventional meaning of the
term in that their health and well-being are negatively
affected by an addiction developed before reaching an age
when they are deemed capable of giving informed consent.
By reclassifying them as victims of state intervention,
11
BAT effectively negates their status as victims of tobacco
manufacture and marketing, and reinforces its preferred
definition of political activity as protective and socially
progressive. Moreover, by referring, albeit implicitly, to
the importance of protecting fundamental rights from state
power (Ashcraft 1987), the approach also binds BAT’s
political activity to the broader egalitarian aspirations of
liberal politics and by describing it as a ‘support’ to gov-
ernments, presents it as a free subsidy to policy makers.
Drawing out the considerable range of techniques of
neutralization embedded within BAT’s Framework, points
to the defensive nature of CSR for companies, like BAT,
which face acute regulatory risks. Importantly, it also
illustrates the way in which CSR practices provide a plat-
form for highly externalising companies to reassert both
the moral primacy of their shareholders’ economic inter-
ests, and the legitimacy of political activity aimed at
maximising the return on capital invested irrespective of its
social impacts. Moreover, by highlighting BAT’s inven-
tiveness in stretching the existing range of techniques
covered in the academic literature (see Table 1), it also
points to the ability of powerful economic actors to opti-
mise the political value of neutralization.
BAT’s innovation in using techniques of neutralization
appears to be built on its ability to develop arguments used
in previous political campaigns by the tobacco industry
(see, for example, Arno et al. 1996; Menashe and Siegel
1998; Cohen et al. 2000; Ong and Glantz 2001; Apollonio
and Bero 2007; Apollonio and Bero 2009) and repackage
them as positive principles which ‘seek solutions’ and
indicate a willingness to ‘work with’ and provide ‘support’
to government (BAT, undated-d).
12
This highlights BAT’s
ability to collectivise the resources of the industry and
exploit its historical investment in public relations (see, for
example, Ong and Glantz 2001; SourceWatch, undated).
Further, its ability to neutralise through positive statements
is a direct result of its capacity to invest in CSR practices,
such as social reporting, which exist alongside, and inde-
pendently, of formal policy making networks. One conse-
quence of this is that BAT can assert arguments, based on
its Framework for CSR, without engaging directly with the
evidence-based arguments of public health professionals
and reform minded public officials. The effect is a sort of
highly managed monologue, in which BAT selectively
summarises opposing arguments (see Diethelm and McKee
2009 for an analysis of some of the techniques involved in
9
In the UK, an estimated 65% of ever smokers start smoking before
the age of 18 (National Statistics 2000).
10
In the UK, the proportion of smokers who express a desire to quit
consistently exceeds two-thirds (Lader 2007; Office for National
Statistics 2011).
11
In practice, a majority of current smokers in the UK broadly
supported public smoking bans (Lader 2007).
12
The company’s justification of socially harmful action is, as such,
almost invariably oblique and implied. Thus, in calling on govern-
ments to approach public smoking in a balanced and proportionate
way (based on sound scientific evidence), the Framework does not
explicitly isolate existing approaches as unbalanced or disproportion-
ate to the underlying risks but when interpreted in conjunction with
other propositions (such as the assertion that ETS is only considered
to be a health concern by some public health authorities), this is its
natural implication.
G. Fooks et al.
123
this process) and sets out the appropriate role of govern-
ment and, therefore, appropriate scope of government
intervention (see BAT 2004 and 2005). In short, the ability
to fund CSR practices provides BAT with a platform to
amplify excuses and justifications for socially harmful
behaviour in a way that appears constructive and socially
progressive.
Discussion and Conclusion
Research on the strategic dimensions of CSR and corporate
philanthropy has historically concentrated on measures that
further the immediate interests of the corporation, whilst
also producing social benefits (Burlinghame and Young
1996; Saiia 2001; Porter and Kramer 2002; Orlitzky et al.
Table 3 Techniques of neutralization associated with the principle of responsible product stewardship (BAT, undated-d)
Level two (core beliefs) Level three (proposed actions and suggested responsibilities) Technique of neutralization
We believe in the
appropriate taxation of
tobacco products and the
elimination of illicit trade
‘we see it as the responsibility of governments and multilateral organisations
to establish workable fiscal regimes and economic policies that do not
create the conditions for illicit trade, and to implement and enforce
effective legislation and strong border controls directed towards combating
illicit trade’
Transfer of responsibility
We believe in regulation
that balances the interests
of all sections of society,
including tobacco
consumers and the
tobacco industry
‘wereserve our right to challenge regulation which is disproportionate and
undermines the fundamental protections that legal systems afford us’
Condemnation of condemners
Expression of right
‘we believe that regulation should also respect the rights of adult consumers
to continue making informed choices about legal products and the
industry’s ability to operate and compete’
Protection of the weak
Appeal to higher loyalties
‘we willseek solutions that balance the interests of all concerned. We
should work together with other parts of society to try to ensure that
tobacco regulation is balanced and workable’
For the greater good
‘we see it as the responsibility of governments to ensure that tobacco
regulation is evidence based, proportionate and aligned with a transparent
and realistic objective’
Assertion of rationality
For the greater good
‘we will support governments bypromoting the view that tobacco
regulation should be based on a balanced consideration of the interests of
all parts of society’
Protection of the weak
Appeal to higher loyalties
‘we will support governments by.. advocating that tobacco regulation should
be enforced consistently’
Condemnation of condemners
‘we willwork with governments on their issues of concern, advocate
respect for the rights of adult consumers’
Exercise of right
Appeal to higher loyalties
We believe that underage
people should not
consume tobacco
products
‘we see it as the responsibility of society as a whole, and specifically of
governments, educators and parents to reduce underage use of tobacco
products’.
Transfer of responsibility
Dispersal of blame
We believe that public
smoking should be
approached in a way that
balances the interests of
smokers and non-smokers
‘environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is often a source of annoyance to non-
smokers and smokers alike and is considered by some public health
authorities to be a health concern’
Misrepresentation of evidence
‘we think a sense of proportion needs to be maintained’ Assertion of rationality
Misrepresentation of evidence
outright public and workplace smoking bansprejudice the rights of
smokers to consume a legal product and, in our view, are generally
unnecessary’
Assertion of rationality
Misrepresentation of evidence
‘there are solutions to the problem of ETS that allow the accommodation of
smokers and non-smokers’
Misrepresentation of evidence
‘our role is to make clear our views on this issue, to suggest solutions that
accommodate smokers and non-smokers’
Protection of the weak
‘our role is tocall for regulations that are soundly based’ Misrepresentation of evidence
‘we willpromote sensible public and workplace smoking arrangements
with a range of stakeholders, including governments and building
managers’
Misrepresentation of evidence
‘we see it as the role of governments and society to take the lead in
approaching public smoking in a balanced and proportionate way, based on
sound scientific evidence’
Assertion of rationality
Misrepresentation of evidence
The Limits of CSR
123
2003; Saiia et al. 2003; Thorne et al. 2003; Campbell and
Slack 2008; Heslin and Ochoa 2008). There are some
exceptions to this focus in the public health literature where
studies examine CSR practices that work against the
broader public welfare (see, for example, Landman et al.
2002). However, these studies leave unexplored how cor-
porate decision-makers reconcile the obvious conflicts
involved in using CSR in this way and how these modes of
thinking then shape CSR practices. Our analysis explores
these questions by focusing on how the concept of neu-
tralization helps make sense of BAT’s CSR programme.
The study supports two broad conclusions.
First, it shows how neutralization can resolve contradic-
tions in the way in which a firm’s management makes sense
of the two quite different concepts of stakeholder engage-
ment and stakeholder management and create the conditions
necessary for them to ignore the ethical implications of using
CSR as a mode of regulatory management. By illustrating
how BAT’s management dismissed social censure of
tobacco manufacturers as scientifically ill-informed and
driven by extreme organisations and reform minded poli-
cymakers, the concept of neutralization helps us to under-
stand why the firm’s CSR practices only superficially
address the important issue of tobacco consumption (Action
Against Smoking and Health 2005). Despite the nature of the
company’s business, and a long history of commercial dis-
honesty ranging from silence over the addictive nature of
nicotine to complicity in tobacco smuggling (see, for
example, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids 2001; Campbell
2004; Bates and Rowell 2004; Beelman et al. 2000), heavy
reliance on neutralization meant that BAT’s management
never doubted that they were working for a socially
responsible corporation trading in a socially responsible
way. ‘Essentially’, as RI’s report put it, ‘staff believed that
British-American Tobacco was a good international citizen
currently, but had failed historically to project itself as such’
(Research International 1997a, p. 39). This not only set the
background to efforts aimed at focusing CSR practices on
issues such as reputational benefit, political access and
opportunities for constituency building, rather than on the
company’s impact on local communities, customers or the
environment (see, for example, Oliver 1998), it also meant
that fundamental changes in either the company’s business
model or levels of investment in social activity were
unnecessary. This is consistent with strategy papers indi-
cating that CORA staff believed BAT was already investing
heavily in socially responsible activity, but was not doing
enough—through branding and publicity—to convey this to
a sceptical public (BAT 2000e).
The second conclusion concerns the potential ideologi-
cal effects of neutralization and centres on the way in
which neutralising techniques relied on during the devel-
opment of the company’s CSRP spill over into CSR
practices and underpin their use as a political tool. Spe-
cifically, neutralization was central to how corporate
decision-makers used CSR as a framing device to transmit
a specific view of the problems relating to tobacco and its
control that redefine the range of legitimate solutions
(Entman 1993). In practice, this has involved BAT using its
CSRP to reject further regulation, provide a moral frame-
work for defining political activity that works against
public welfare as socially responsible and create an intel-
lectual basis for the contrived distinction between sensible
and unreasonable regulation.
Company documents suggest a key aim of this approach
was to break up and, therefore, weaken opposition to
BAT’s efforts to optimise its commercial freedom and that
it was guided by two main impulses: the need for BAT
employees to reconcile the nature of their work with the
perceptions of friends, family and acquaintances, as well as
their own sense of self; and the commercial pressure to
produce ‘potential benefits’, such as ‘increased marketing
freedoms, increased self-regulation, greater intention to
buy’ (BAT, undated-i; Canning 1999). This second driver
illustrates the importance of identifying and quantifying the
negative effects of CSR practices when assessing their
broader social impact.
Our analysis has potentially important implications for
the capacity of voluntary forms of corporate governance,
such as social reporting and stakeholder dialogue, to reduce
business’ negative social and environmental impacts. The
extent to which these CSR practices can bring corporate
activity more closely into line with the broader public
interest is predicated on their capacity to make corporations
more accountable to stakeholders whose interests are not
purely confined to optimising returns on capital invested.
Our analysis, in contrast, strongly suggests that stakeholder
dialogue (and, therefore, social reporting) is primarily a
defensive practice aimed at preventing stakeholders from
forcing change on companies through formal government
intervention. In this sense, our data indicate that the
‘managerial capture’ of CSR (Puxty 1991; Owen et al.
1997; Owen et al. 2000 and O’Dwyer 2003) is an ongoing
and active process which takes effect in the day-to-day
practices of stakeholder engagement. Whilst strong com-
mercial drivers underlie this approach, it is facilitated by
corporate decision-makers’ reliance on neutralization
which provides them with a cognitive repertoire for
responding to some aspects of stakeholder opinion, but not
others—a vital stage in the process of subscribing to
stakeholder engagement in principle, but using it in prac-
tice as a means of managing regulatory risk.
The extent to which our analysis helps to explain the
finding of other studies on the appropriation of CSR by
corporate managers (see, for example, Larrinaga-Gonzalez
and Bebbington 2001; O’Dwyer 2003; Corporate Watch
G. Fooks et al.
123
2006; Crowther 2006), and addresses the broader limita-
tions of CSR as a means of aligning business activity with
public welfare, is ultimately dependant on whether we
make sense of large tobacco companies as a special case.
Tobacco is the only product that kills when used as
intended. Further, the mortality rate of long-term tobacco
use is unusually high (Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention 2002). Nevertheless, the behaviour of tobacco
company executives is not unique. Litigation against cor-
porations tells us that company executives in other sectors
such as mining (Rosner and Markowitz 1994), pharma-
ceuticals (Abraham and Davis 2006), asbestos (Tweedale
2000; McCulloch and Tweedale 2008), chemicals (Pearce
and Tombs 1998) and oil (Rosner and Markowitz 2006),
have been dishonest about the degree of harm their busi-
nesses cause. Furthermore, companies in these sectors have
misrepresented scientific knowledge to reduce regulatory
and litigation risk (Tucker 2006; McGarity and Wagner
2008; Wagner and Steinzor 2006; Hoggan and Littlemore
2009). In fact, many of the political strategies used by the
tobacco industry are common tools of the public relations
industry (Stauber and Rampton 1995), and it is therefore
not surprising to find neutralization being linked to CSR
practices in other industrial sectors (Baumberg, undated).
If, in rejecting tobacco industry exceptionalism, we assume
that the findings summarised in this article are capable of
being extended to other companies, the prognosis for vol-
untary forms of CSR as a means of managing the
increasing costs of business activity to public health and
the environment seems limited, at least where socially
responsible business practices diminish company earnings.
If managers typically start from an assumption that a firm is
already socially responsible, and that criticism directed at
the firm is unjustified or politically motivated, then they are
more likely to come to regard CSR as a public relations
tool or device for managing regulatory environments than
as a medium for undertaking meaningful change.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, dis-
tribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author(s) and the source are credited.
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The Limits of CSR
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... Environmental policies of the governments and consumer-friendliness expectations of the markets, stimulate organizations to implement CSR initiatives, based on the social conditions. The instructions of the national and multilateral institutions suggest to gain goodwill and stakeholder's support, before commencing beneficial activities, for the host members of those societies (Perrini, Russo, & Tencati, 2007), (Fooks, Gilmore, Collin, Holden, & Lee, 2013), (Bárcena-Ruiz & Sagasta, 2021), (Hickman, Iyer, & Jadiyappa, 2021). The quadrants of the matrix provide ultimate solution, to the corporates, for devising relevant CSR initiatives and deriving economic or non-economic benefits, from those efforts, by considering the social dimensions. ...
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In imperialistic times, corporates never considered their responsibilities, for social welfare but adopted unethical consumption patterns, because of the state's mercantilism-based trade policies; Subsequent bipolar world ensured the existence of vigilant and reactive corporates, towards their stakeholders, under the purview of global multilateral organizations and community; The new millennium offers corporates, to function as the proactive, self-regulated and responsible citizens, by reducing the efforts of state, on achieving inclusive and sustainable economic development. Corporates face numerous hurdles on managing their inherent conflicts, which emerge between ethical and economic interests. While fulfilling their strategic commitments, corporates extend their arms, to fill social and environmental perforations. These intentions are dampened, when those responsible activities meet uncertain and irrelevant business factors. When such situations embark, stakeholders of the organizations, notice the gaps in corporate duties and stimulates the authorities, for taking amicable decisions. This research article explores various socially responsible activities across globe and relevant impediments, which are associated with those activities. By reviewing sufficient literature evidences, a matrix is developed, to place appropriate activities, with respect to the business-society dimensions. Quadrants of the matrix explain the rationale behind these activities and provide necessary links, to handle stakeholder relationships. Based on the matrix, the research concludes that the corporates need to consider and consult their responsible activities, with their respective stakeholders, for the effective planning and implementation of those activities.
... Corporate identities and images are managed through strategic CSR communication (Morsing & Roepstorff, 2015). Although corporations primarily act according to their own immediate interests when engaging in CSR communication, they may still produce social benefits through such activity (Fooks et al., 2013). In fact, major changes in a sociopolitical context can disrupt organizations with identity-images of strong CSR relations (Morsing & Roepstorff, 2015). ...
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Organizations have a responsibility to remain accountable to their stakeholders, and thus must have some normative, corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication. The murder of George Floyd elicited an unprecedented response on social media by global corporations. The current study examined the responses by Fortune 500 companies on the unique platform of Instagram to this event and the larger social movement, Black Lives Matter (BLM). Through a comprehensive analysis of these responses, the current study found that the Fortune 500 companies that did respond on Instagram (n = 166, 33.2%) incorporated messages that reflected six motivations for CSR communication (i.e., risk management, organizational functioning, market positioning, civic positioning, moral positioning, and social reform).
... 119 CSR has created doubt that the industry is irredeemable and recent declarations of self-transformation augment this doubt. [123][124][125] Tobacco companies have declared they will eliminate smoked tobacco products, thus implicitly recognising these products will never again be socially acceptable. Nonetheless, their failure to provide a timeline and aggressive promotion of smoked tobacco in countries with less stringent regulation questions these stated intentions. ...
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This article examines corporate social responsibility (CSR) through the lens of political ontology. We contend that CSR is not only a discursive mean of legitimization but an inherently ontological practice through which particular worlds become real. CSR enables the politics of place-making, connecting humans and nonhumans in specific territorial configurations in accordance with corporate needs and interests. We discuss three CSR mechanisms of singularization that create a particular corporate ontology in place: (1) community engagements that form ‘stakeholders’; (2) CSR standards and certifications that produce singular sustainable environments; and (3) CSR reporting that erases ontological conflicts and enables the singularized representation (of the environment and the community) to travel to other locations of the corporate world. We argue that these ontological CSR practices obscure the pluriverse of other world and place-making practices that would create different kinds of sustainabilities based on less extractive and non-corporate ways of being in place.
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This paper explores how corporate social responsibility (CSR) is used as a political strategy. Drawing on social exchange theory and using data from firms operating in Ghana, the findings reveal that when CSR is politicized, it involves the design and implementation of politically charged CSR initiatives that entail firm–polity negotiated exchanges. Firms exchange social interventions for political influence in ways that allow politicians to take the credit to boost their re‐election. To do this, the choice of target politician hinges on political vulnerability, the selection of CSR initiatives is based on CSR orientation and CSR benefit personalization, the location of CSR is linked to politicians’ electoral constituencies and the timing of CSR is affected by election cycles. Overall, this paper provides new insights into how CSR is used in indirect social exchanges in political markets, shows that CSR can be CPA and thus extends nonmarket strategy integration from its focus on CSR's complementarity with CPA to its instrumentality in CPA. The findings have important theoretical and practical implications.