Corporate Social Responsibility: Strategic Implications

Cornell University, Итак, New York, United States
Journal of Management Studies (Impact Factor: 4.26). 02/2006; 43(1):1-18. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6486.2006.00580.x
Source: RePEc
We describe a variety of perspectives on corporate social responsibility (CSR), which we use to develop a framework for consideration of the strategic implications of CSR. Based on this framework, we propose an agenda for additional theoretical and empirical research on CSR. We then review the papers in this special issue and relate them to the proposed agenda. Copyright Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2006.


Available from: Abagail Mcwilliams
Guest Editors’ Introduction
Corporate Social Responsibility:
Strategic Implications*
Abagail McWilliams, Donald S. Siegel and
Patrick M. Wright
College of Business Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago; Department of
Economics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; School of Industrial and Labor Relations,
Cornell University
 We describe a variety of perspectives on corporate social responsibility
(CSR), which we use to develop a framework for consideration of the strategic
implications of CSR. Based on this framework, we propose an agenda for additional
theoretical and empirical research on CSR. We then review the papers in this special
issue and relate them to the proposed agenda.
In recent years, scholars and managers have devoted greater attention to the strate-
gic implications of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Consistent with
McWilliams and Siegel (2001), we define CSR as situations where the firm goes
beyond compliance and engages in ‘actions that appear to further some social
good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law’. However,
this is just one interpretation of CSR. Numerous definitions of CSR have been
proposed and often no clear definition is given, making theoretical development
and measurement difficult. CSR activities have been posited to include incorpo-
rating social characteristics or features into products and manufacturing processes
(e.g. aerosol products with no fluorocarbons or using environmentally-friendly
technologies), adopting progressive human resource management practices (e.g.
promoting employee empowerment), achieving higher levels of environmental
performance through recycling and pollution abatement (e.g. adopting an aggres-
Journal of Management Studies 43:1 January 2006
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2006. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ ,
UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Address for reprints: Donald S. Siegel, Department of Economics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 3506
Russell Sage Laboratory, 110, 8th Street, Troy, NY 12180-3590, USA (
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sive stance towards reducing emissions), and advancing the goals of community
organizations (e.g. working closely with groups such as United Way).
are moving beyond just defining and identifying CSR activities, to examine the
strategic role of CSR in organizations.
Similarly, there is growing interest among managers in the antecedents and con-
sequences of CSR, especially for executives at multi-national, multi-divisional
companies. These corporate leaders are mindful of the fact that business norms
and standards, regulatory frameworks, and stakeholder demand for CSR can vary
substantially across nations, regions, and lines of business. They are also aware
that their divisional managers are under constant pressure from employees, sup-
pliers, community groups, NGOs, and government to increase their involvement
in CSR.
Unfortunately for both academicians and practitioners, the analysis of CSR is
still embryonic, and thus theoretical frameworks, measurement, and empirical
methods have not yet been resolved. Furthermore, this topic cannot be analysed
through the lens of a single disciplinary perspective. Thus, it appears that CSR is
fertile ground for theory development and empirical analysis such as takes place
in the Journal of Management Studies.
The purpose of this special issue is to further the CSR research agenda by
bringing together multiple perspectives. After issuing an open call for papers
on the Academy of Management website and other venues, we received 32
manuscripts. We reviewed these papers and selected several for presentation
at a Special Issue Workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
the authors and discussants at the workshop were scholars from several
academic disciplines (management, political science, accounting, marketing, and
economics), many international contributors, and a high proportion of junior
The papers presented at the workshop were critiqued by reviewers and
participants and then reviewed again after the workshop. From these revised
manuscripts, we selected the five best for publication in the special issue. Several
themes emerged from these studies: the relation between CSR and competitive
advantage, the role of differences in institutional environments in framing
stakeholder expectations regarding the propensity of firms to engage in CSR, a
comparison of the social desirability of the strategic use of CSR versus ‘coerced’
CSR, the role of economic, philosophical, and global corporate citizenship per-
spectives on CSR, and the evolution and influence of the academic literature on
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. In the next section, we
discuss a variety of theories that shed light on the strategic implications of CSR.
Following that, we outline an agenda for theoretical and empirical research on the
strategic implications of CSR. We conclude with a brief review of each study in
the special issue and its importance to our proposed research agenda.
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Numerous theories have been brought to bear on the subject of CSR. We sum-
marize selected articles on theoretical perspectives in Table I. Theodore Levitt
could be credited with setting the agenda for the debate about the social respon-
sibility of business in his Harvard Business Review article ‘The Dangers of Social
Responsibility’, in which he cautions that ‘government’s job is not business, and
business’s job is not government’ (1958, p. 47). Milton Friedman (1970) expressed
the same sentiment and added that the mere existence of CSR was a signal of an
agency problem within the firm. An agency theory perspective implies that CSR
is a misuse of corporate resources that would be better spent on valued-added
internal projects or returned to shareholders. It also suggests that CSR is an execu-
tive perk, in the sense that managers use CSR to advance their careers or other
personal agendas.
R. Edward Freeman (1984), building on Chester Barnard’s (1938) ‘inducement-
contribution’ framework, presented a more positive view of managers’ support of
CSR. Freeman’s stakeholder theory asserts that managers must satisfy a variety of
constituents (e.g. workers, customers, suppliers, local community organizations)
who can influence firm outcomes. According to this view, it is not sufficient for man-
agers to focus exclusively on the needs of stockholders, or the owners of the cor-
poration. Stakeholder theory implies that it can be beneficial for the firm to engage
in certain CSR activities that non-financial stakeholders perceive to be important,
because, absent this, these groups might withdraw their support for the firm. Stake-
holder theory was expanded by Donaldson and Preston (1995) who stressed the
moral and ethical dimensions of CSR, as well as the business case for engaging in
such activity. Another perspective, stewardship theory (Donaldson and Davis, 1991)
is based on the idea that there is a moral imperative for managers to ‘do the right
thing’, without regard to how such decisions affect firm financial performance.
Institutional theory and classical economic theory have also been applied to
CSR in a paper by Jones (1995). The author concludes that companies involved
in repeated transactions with stakeholders on the basis of trust and cooperation
are motivated to be honest, trustworthy, and ethical because the returns to such
behaviour are high. Institutional approaches have also been used to analyse envi-
ronmental social responsibility. More specifically, Jennings and Zandbergen (1995)
analyse the role of institutions in shaping the consensus within a firm regarding
the establishment of an ‘ecologically sustainable’ organization. Finally, a recent
paper by Waldman et al. (2004) applies strategic leadership theory to CSR. These
authors conjecture that certain aspects of transformational leadership will be posi-
tively correlated with the propensity of firms to engage in CSR and that these
leaders will employ CSR activities strategically.
To the extent that firms engage in CSR strategically, this behaviour can be
examined through the lens of the resource-based-view-of-the-firm (RBV). RBV, as
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introduced by Wernerfelt (1984) and refined by Barney (1991), borrows heavily
from earlier research by Penrose (1959).
This theory presumes that firms are
bundles of heterogeneous resources and capabilities that are imperfectly mobile
across firms. Barney (1991) maintains that if these resources and capabilities are
valuable, rare, inimitable and non-substitutable, they can constitute a source of
sustainable competitive advantage.
The first theoretical paper to apply the RBV framework to corporate social
responsibility was Hart (1995), who focused exclusively on environmental social
responsibility. Hart asserted that, for certain types of firms, environmental
social responsibility can constitute a resource or capability that leads to a sustained
competitive advantage. Russo and Fouts (1997) tested this theory empirically using
firm-level data on environmental and accounting profitability and found that firms
with higher levels of environmental performance had superior financial perfor-
mance, which they interpreted to be consistent with the RBV theory.
Using the RBV framework, a more formal theory-of-the-firm model of ‘profit-
maximizing’ CSR was posited in McWilliams and Siegel (2001). These authors
outlined a simple model in which two companies produce identical products,
except that one firm adds an additional ‘social’ attribute or feature to the product,
which is valued by some consumers or, potentially, by other stakeholders. In this
model, managers conduct a cost/benefit analysis to determine the level of
resources to devote to CSR activities/attributes. That is, they assess the demand
for CSR and also evaluate the cost of satisfying this demand.
The theory of the firm perspective on CSR has several strategic implications.
The first is that CSR can be an integral element of a firm’s business and corpo-
rate-level differentiation strategies. Therefore, it should be considered as a form of
strategic investment. Even when it is not directly tied to a product feature or pro-
duction process, CSR can be viewed as a form of reputation building or mainte-
nance. A second strategic implication of a theory of the firm perspective is that
one can apply the RBV logic to CSR, in the sense that it is possible to generate a
set of predictions regarding patterns of investment in CSR across firms and indus-
tries. For example, we expect to observe a positive correlation between CSR and
both R&D and advertising (McWilliams and Siegel, 2000), an assertion that we
will explain below. Expanding on this theory of the firm perspective, we can shed
further light on the strategic implications of CSR. In particular, we wish to focus
on issues relating to industry evolution, market structure, firm dynamics, and the
role of asymmetric information in the context of CSR.
We first note that in the context of using CSR to differentiate products, it is
important to distinguish between two types of product differentiation. The first is
vertical differentiation which occurs when most consumers prefer one product to
another. Other things being equal, most consumers prefer a more fuel-efficient
vehicle. In the context of CSR, such a situation could occur when it is clear in the
mind of consumers that the product with a CSR characteristic is better than the
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product without such a characteristic. For example, a ‘hybrid’ version of a Honda
Accord generates less pollution than a standard Honda Accord. Thus, it is clear
to most consumers that the hybrid car is better than the standard model. Some
consumers are willing to pay a price premium for the hybrid car, given that the
social characteristic of less pollution is ‘valuable’ to them. This type of differentia-
tion can strengthen or maintain the reputation of the firm which adds value in
addition to allowing the firm to meet a particular market demand (Fombrun and
Shanley, 1990).
In contrast, horizontal differentiation occurs when only some consumers prefer
a particular product, but the preference is based on taste, rather than quality. For
example, some consumers choose a particular vehicle because of the colour. This
type of differentiation does not contribute to the reputation of the firm and does
not allow the firm to charge a premium price. Horizontal differentiation also oper-
ates for different brands. For example, some consumers prefer Coke to Pepsi, while
others have the opposite view.
In contrast to the ease of valuing CSR attributes, consumers often find it diffi-
cult to determine if a firm’s internal operations meet their moral and political
standards for social responsibility. The level of asymmetric information regarding
internal operations can be mediated by the firm itself or by activists. For instance,
companies such as McDonalds, Motorola, and Nike publish annual reports on
social responsibility. One can view this activity as a form of advertising, especially
for more general types of CSR. While such reports may be useful, some consumers
perceive this information as biased, since it is filtered through senior management.
Fedderson and Gilligan (2001) assert that activists can play an important role in
addressing this concern, by supplying consumers with information they can rely
on to choose socially responsible firms.
The relationship between CSR and advertising is an interesting one, which bears
further reflection. Several stylized facts relating to industry evolution and the nature
of advertising are useful to consider. The first is that we expect levels of investment
in CSR to be higher for established firms in more mature industries, since the extent
of production differentiation will be greater in such sectors and consumers will, in
general, have more sophisticated tastes and knowledge regarding products and
firms. It is clear that such companies are likely to derive greater benefits from the
use of CSR for reputation enhancement/protection. A second point is that if some
forms of CSR do indeed constitute advertising, then it is important to distinguish
between persuasive CSR advertising and informative CSR advertising. Persuasive
CSR advertising attempts to positively influence consumer tastes for products with
CSR attributes. It follows that this type of advertising need not be firm-specific.
Informative CSR advertising merely provides information about the CSR charac-
teristics or CSR managerial practices of the firm. Following Milgrom and Roberts
(1986), one could also view a high level of CSR advertising (either persuasive on
informative CSR advertising) as a signal of product or firm quality.
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Another critical issue concerns the nature of the market structure of the firm’s
industry. A key conclusion of the McWilliams and Siegel (2001) paper was that,
in equilibrium, firms that engage in CSR will earn the same rate of profit as firms
that do not engage in CSR. We refer to this finding as the neutrality result. This
finding was misinterpreted by Piga (2002) as implying that CSR can only occur
in monopolistically competitive industries, since some oligopoly models of verti-
cally differentiated markets predict that (in equilibrium) firms selling the higher
quality product (in our case, the firm that sells a good with a CSR characteristic)
reap ‘abnormal’ profits. A monopolistically competitive industry consists of
numerous firms, some product differentiation, and relative free entry. Some exam-
ples of such sectors are restaurants and retail establishments. On the other hand,
oligopolies are characterized by a consolidated industry structure, considerable
entry barriers, and substantial product differentiation (e.g. autos, computers).
We believe that the neutrality result holds under both oligopoly and monopo-
listic competition. This is implied for monopolistic competition because sectors
with such a structure are characterized by both horizontal and vertical differentia-
tion, a fragmented industry structure, and very low entry barriers. Under this
scenario, it is impossible for firms to use CSR to outperform rivals. Examples of
firms in monopolistically competitive industries that engage in CSR include
restaurants, hotels, companies selling organic produce, and different types of retail
The neutrality result likely holds for monopolistic markets as well. That is
because, while some oligopoly models predict that firms producing a higher quality
product earn ‘abnormal’ returns, these findings hinge on the assumption that costs
are constant and independent of quality. These assumptions were not invoked in
the McWilliams and Siegel (2001) model. Furthermore, recent economic models
of CSR (Baron, 2001; Fedderson and Gilligan, 2001) identify an important coun-
tervailing force on the ability of companies to engage in strategic CSR in oligo-
polistic industries: activists who target leading firms (e.g. the attack on Nike’s Asian
production). This countervailing force makes it difficult for oligopolistic firms to
achieve a competitive advantage through the strategic use of CSR.
The question of whether firms can use CSR to achieve a sustainable competitive
advantage is another important question. A paper by Reinhardt (1998) finds that a
firm engaging in a CSR-based strategy can only generate an abnormal return if it
can prevent competitors from imitating its strategy. In competitive markets this is
unlikely, since CSR is highly transparent, with little causal ambiguity. Other theo-
retical studies (Dutta et al., 1995; Hoppe and Lehmann-Grube, 2001) show that any
early mover advantages that might be gained by offering higher quality products
(recall that CSR is modelled as a ‘quality improvement’ in McWilliams and Siegel,
2001) are eroded when competitive strategies are observable.
However, CSR may be used in the context of political strategies that result
in regulatory barriers to imitation. One such strategy would be for firms to use
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Guest Editors’ Introduction 7
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Table I. Selected theoretical papers on CSR
Nature of
Author(s) perspective(s) Key argument/result
Friedman Agency theory CSR is indicative of self-serving behaviour on the part of
(1970) managers, and thus, reduces shareholder wealth
Freeman Stakeholder Managers should tailor their policies to satisfy numerous
(1984) theory constituents, not just shareholders. These stakeholders include
workers, customers, suppliers, and community organizations
Donaldson Stewardship There is a moral imperative for managers to ‘do the right thing’,
and Davis theory without regard to how such decisions affect firm performance
Donaldson Stakeholder Stressed the moral and ethical dimensions of stakeholder theory,
and theory as well as the business case for engaging in CSR
Jones (1995) Stakeholder Firms involved in repeated transactions with stakeholders on the
theory basis of trust and cooperation have an incentive to be honest
and ethical, since such behaviour is beneficial to the firm
Hart (1995) Resource-based For certain companies, environmental social responsibility can
view of the constitute a resource or capability that leads to a sustained
firm competitive advantage
Jennings Institutional Institutions play an important role in shaping the consensus
and theory within a firm regarding the establishment of an ‘ecologically
Zandbergen sustainable’ organization
Baron Theory of the The use of CSR to attract socially responsible consumers is
(2001) firm referred to as strategic CSR, in the sense that firms provide a
public good in conjunction with their marketing/business strategy
Feddersen Theory of the Activists and NGOs can play an important role in reducing
and firm information asymmetry with respect to CSR
Gilligan on the part of consumers
McWilliams Theory of the Presents a supply/demand perspective on CSR, which implies
and Siegel firm that the firm’s ideal level of CSR can be determined by cost-
(2001) benefit analysis
McWilliams Resource-based CSR strategies, when supported by political strategies, can be
et al. (2002) view of the used to create sustainable competitive advantage
Waldman Theory of the Certain aspects of CEO leadership can affect the propensity of
et al. (2004) firm/strategic firms to engage in CSR. Companies run by intellectually
leadership stimulating CEOs do more strategic CSR than comparable firms
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government regulation to impose CSR on rivals who do not employ an appropri-
ate technology, thus raising the costs of those rivals relative to the initiating firm.
Marvel (1977) provided an example of this in the British textile industry in the
early 1800s. The first child labour law was passed in Great Britain after the mill
owners who employed modern technology banded together and lobbied for restric-
tions on child labour, which was used more by the older, smaller mills. McWilliams
et al. (2002) applied the RBV framework to demonstrate how US firms can use
political strategies based on CSR to raise regulatory barriers that prevent foreign
competitors from using substitute (e.g. low labour cost) technology.
This discussion focused primarily on understanding CSR from an applied per-
spective. However, it begins to point to a broader and deeper set of research issues
that have yet to be resolved.
There are numerous unresolved theoretical and empirical issues relating to the
strategic implications of CSR. These include defining CSR, identifying institu-
tional differences in CSR across countries, determining the motivations for CSR,
describing CSR strategies, modelling the effects of CSR on the firm and stake-
holder groups, determining the effects of leadership and corporate culture on CSR
activity, assessing the effect of CSR on the firm and stakeholder groups, measur-
ing the demand for CSR, measuring the costs of CSR and assessing the current
knowledge base.
Theoretical Issues To Be Resolved
As noted in our introduction, there is a no strong consensus on a definition for
CSR. CSR has been used as a synonym for business ethics, defined as tantamount
to corporate philanthropy, and considered strictly as relating to environmental
policy. CSR has also been confused with corporate social performance and cor-
porate citizenship. The lack of consistency in the use of the term CSR makes it
difficult to compare results across studies, hampering our ability to understand the
implications of CSR activity. As other issues are resolved, we hope that they lead
to the emergence of an agreed-upon definition of CSR.
Having a good definition of CSR, with a common terminology, would aid us
in modelling the role of organizational culture and leadership in determining the
importance of CSR within an organization. Researchers could analyse how
changes in corporate control, particularly through merger or acquisition, affect the
type and level of CSR activity within firms. Alternatively, changes in top man-
agement (CEO or team) might be examined to determine whether leadership style
and characteristics are more important than corporate control/culture for pre-
dicting CSR activity. Understanding the role of leadership could be extended to
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understanding the decision making process and how decisions about CSR activ-
ity are affected by demands from multiple stakeholders.
Asymmetric information makes it difficult to study the antecedents and conse-
quences of CSR. Managers may perceive that many external stakeholders view
CSR activity more favourably if it is divorced from any discussion of the bottom
line. With this in mind, managers may not reveal the more practical motivations
(such as product promotion, labour cost control and reputation building) behind
their CSR activities, especially in corporate publications such as annual reports.
This lack of candid information has made it difficult to distinguish and discuss the
different motivations for CSR, which may be private or social.
The use of CSR to capture value is referred to as strategic CSR by Baron (2001)
who points out that ‘it is the motivation for the action that identifies socially, as
opposed to privately, responsible action’. That is, if the motivation is to serve
society, at the cost of profits, the action is socially responsible, but if the motiva-
tion is to serve the bottom line, then the action is privately responsible. For pri-
vately responsible actions, there may well be social benefits that exceed the cost of
the action to the firm. However, this does not change the motivation, unless these
social benefits are of value to managers. For example, providing day care may
lower the number of juvenile crimes in a community, but the firm might provide
the day care only because it increases the availability of workers and lowers the
cost of absenteeism.
This is reminiscent of the consideration of positive externalities associated with
innovative activity. An externality is defined as the impact of an economic agent’s
actions on the well-being of a bystander. Pollution is a classic example of a nega-
tive externality, while innovation (whose benefits cannot be entirely appropriated
by its creator) is a classic example of a positive externality. While the private returns
to innovation (or those that accrue to the company) may be high, the social returns
to innovation (through the creation of new or improved products and processes)
may be even greater. Researchers need to use more direct methods, such as inter-
views and surveys, to ‘tease out’ less self-serving information about the motivations
for CSR activity and improve the precision of measurement of the private and
social returns to CSR.
In addition to understanding the motivation for the provision of social benefits,
we need to understand how the provision of these goods, through strategic CSR,
affects society. An example of strategic CSR is when a firm links the provision of
a public good to the sale of their (private) products (e.g. eco-labelling). Bagnoli and
Watts (2003) model this behaviour and find that the propensity of firms to engage
in strategic CSR depends on two factors: the intensity of competition in the market
and the extent to which consumers are willing to pay a premium for social respon-
sibility. The authors conclude that there is an inverse relation between intensity of
competition and provision of CSR. That is, in more competitive markets, less of
the public good will be provided through strategic CSR. Conversely, in less com-
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petitive markets, more of the public good will be provided. This is easy to under-
stand, since more competition results in lower margins and, therefore, less ability
to provide additional (social) attributes or activity. Conversely, less competition
leads to the potential for higher margins and more ability to provide additional
attributes or activity.
An analysis of the provision of public goods by private firms is a welcome addi-
tion to the management literature on CSR, which has been primarily concerned
with answering the following question: do firms ‘do well by doing good’? Showing
that a firm does well by doing good is often referred to as making the business case
for CSR. While understanding the relation between firm performance and social
performance is of primary importance in the management literature, a more thor-
ough understanding of the CSR phenomenon requires that we take account of
other stakeholders as well. These stakeholders include: customers, employees, gov-
ernments, suppliers, taxpayers, community groups, and underrepresented groups.
Our understanding of CSR should be extended to an examination of the strate-
gic use of CSR activities. Fombrun and Shanley (1990) established that investing
in CSR attributes and activities may be important elements of product differenti-
ation and reputation building. McWilliams and Siegel (2001) suggest that CSR
activities be included in strategy formulation and that the level of resources
devoted to CSR be determined through cost/benefit analysis.
Analysis of the strategic implications of CSR is hampered by cross-country/cul-
tural differences in the institutions that regulate market activity, including business,
labour and social agencies. Institutional differences lead to different expectations
and different returns to activity. For firms operating in multiple countries/cultures
this complicates the process of determining which activities to engage in and how
much to invest. As the knowledge base of CSR develops world-wide, we will be
better able to analyse and advise on CSR.
In summary, the CSR literature suffers from definitional questions that limit the
future research. Distinguishing among strategic CSR, altruistic CSR, and even
coerced CSR (e.g. Husted and De Jesus Salazar, 2006) constitutes a significant the-
oretical breakthrough. However, until theory and research can adequately agree
upon what, specifically, constitutes CSR, research will continue to provide a lack
of consistent results. It is to this empirical research that we next turn our attention.
Empirical Issues To Be Resolved
Problems with measurement of the costs and benefits of CSR activities continue
to cloud our understanding of the strategic implications of CSR. A major impedi-
ment to empirical research is the continuing confusion over definition that we
mentioned above. It is impossible to measure what we cannot define and, as long
as we use different definitions, we will get empirical results that cannot reliably be
compared. Table II presents selected empirical studies of CSR.
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Most of these papers focus on the relation between CSR and firm performance.
Early studies used either the event study methodology (which is based on analysis
of short-run changes in stock prices as a proxy for firm performance in the after-
math of a CSR-related event) or regression analysis (which uses an accounting
measure of profitability, such as return on assets, as the dependent variable
in a regression model that ‘explains’ firm performance). These studies usually
attempted to answer the question: do firms do well by doing good? The reported
results have ranged from showing a negative relation between CSR and firm per-
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Table II. Selected empirical papers on CSR
Author(s) Methodology Nature of CSR Key results
Abowd et al. Event study Human resource No consistent pattern of increased or
(1990) decisions decreased stock price
Worrell et al. Event study Layoff programmes Investors react negatively to layoff
(1991) announcements, especially when they
are due to financial distress
Clinebell and Event study Plant closures Longer periods of advance notice of
Clinebell plant closings result in greater losses in
(1994) shareholder wealth
Posnikoff Event study Divestment from Divestment enhanced shareholder value
(1997) South Africa
Wright and Event study Divestment from Divestment had a negative effect on
Ferris (1997) South Africa shareholder value
Teoh et al. Event study Divestment from Divestment had a neutral effect on
(1999) South Africa shareholder value
Aupperle Regression An overall firm-level There is a neutral relation between CSR
et al. (1985) analysis index of CSR and profitability
McGuire Regression An overall firm-level Prior profitability was more closely
et al. (1988) analysis index of CSR related to CSR than was subsequent
Russo and Regression Environmental There is a positive relation between
Fouts (1997) analysis performance environmental performance and
financial performance
Waddock and Regression An overall firm-level CSR results in an improvement in firm
Graves (1997) analysis index of CSR–KLD performance
McWilliams Regression An overall firm-level There is a neutral relation between CSR
and analysis index of CSR–KLD and profitability
Siegel (2000) data
Hillman and Regression ‘Social issues’ CSR ‘Stakeholder management’ CSR is
Keim (2001) analysis and ‘stakeholder positively correlated with shareholder
management’ CSR– wealth creation (market value added);
KLD data ‘social issues’ CSR is not
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formance, to showing no relation, to showing a positive relation (e.g. the results of
divesting from South Africa shown in Table II). There is little consistency in these
findings. This may be a result of inconsistency in defining CSR, inconsistency in
defining firm performance, inconsistency in samples, imprecision and inconsis-
tency in research design, misspecification of models, changes over time, or some
more fundamental variance in the samples that are being analysed.
McWilliams and Siegel (1997) critiqued the use of the event study methodol-
ogy to measure the consequences of CSR. The authors reported that the findings
of event studies of CSR appearing in top management journals were unreliable,
due to serious flaws in the research design and implementation of the event study
methodology (see also McWilliams et al., 1999). They also cautioned that the use
of stock price as a metric for performance is not appropriate for studying CSR.
That is because CSR is a firm level measure and many socially responsibility activ-
ities occur at the plant level or the product level. Another concern is that an analy-
sis of stock price effects only relates to financial stakeholders and it is clear that
non-financial stakeholders are also affected by CSR activities.
McWilliams and Siegel (2000) challenged the conventional regression model
used to assess the relationship between corporate social performance (CSP), which
is often used as a synonym for CSR, and firm performance. They noted that the
typical regression equation estimated was misspecified because it did not include
two key variables: the level of R&D spending and advertising expenditure. Both
of these variables have been shown to be determinants of firm performance and,
because all three (R&D, advertising, and CSP) are elements of a differentiation
strategy, they hypothesized that R&D and advertising would be correlated with a
measure of CSP. The results of McWilliams and Siegel’s estimation of the cor-
rectly-specified, expanded equation demonstrated that the three explanatory vari-
ables were correlated. Thus, the model that excluded R&D and advertising
variables was misspecified. Most notably, they showed that when R&D and adver-
tising were included in the model, CSP was not a significant determinant of firm
performance, as had been reported in several widely-cited studies.
Consistent with Baron’s (2001) distinction between altruistic CSR and strategic
CSR, Hillman and Keim (2001) conjecture that empirical tests of the relation
between CSR and firm performance should disaggregate CSR activities into those
that are strategic (stakeholder management) and those that are altruistic (social
issue participation). Based on estimation of a disaggregated model, they report
that there is a positive relation between firm performance (measured using market
value added) and strategic CSR and a negative relation between altruistic CSR
and firm performance.
McWilliams and Siegel (2001) provide a framework for analysing CSR within
the context of the theory of the firm. Based on this framework, they develop
hypotheses regarding the provision of CSR attributes across industries and market
structures. They hypothesize that ‘the provision of CSR will depend on R&D
12 A. McWilliams et al.
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spending, advertising intensity, the extent of product differentiation, the percent-
age of government sales, consumer income, the tightness of the labour market,
and the stage of the industry life cycle’ (2001, p. 125). All of these should be tested
empirically to see if the results support the hypotheses.
McWilliams and Siegel conclude that ‘there is some level of CSR that will max-
imize profits while satisfying the demand for CSR from multiple stakeholders. The
ideal level of CSR can be determined by cost-benefit analysis’ (2001, p. 125). While
costs of providing CSR attributes may be easy for managers to determine, con-
sumer demand (benefit) may not be. Consumer demand for CSR could be diffi-
cult to measure because CSR attributes are among many attributes of a product.
For example, a particular shampoo may have the CSR attribute that it is ‘not tested
on animals’. But, it also has a particular scent, colour, consistency, and package.
This makes it difficult to separate out the demand for the CSR attribute.
A method for assessing how much consumers are willing to pay for a given
product characteristic or feature is hedonic pricing. Hedonic pricing involves using
data on actual purchases, in order to determine the implicit ‘price’ of a particu-
lar attribute. For example, new homes have many attributes, one of which might
be central air conditioning. Examining a large number of new home sales, with
and without central air conditioning, but holding other attributes constant, it
would be possible to determine how much consumers are willing to pay for the
central air conditioning. Similarly, to determine the ‘demand’ for ‘not tested on
animals’, researchers can compare sale data on many shampoos, with and without
the CSR attribute and can determine how much consumers will pay for that
attribute. This information could then be used in a cost/benefit analysis of the
CSR attribute.
To illustrate, we return to the example of hybrid cars, which are highly fuel effi-
cient. Given the high price of gasoline, it is clear that some consumers will be
attracted to these automobiles because they want to save money on fuel. Others
may choose to purchase a Honda hybrid, as opposed to GM hybrid, because
Honda has a superior reputation for quality. Still others are willing to pay a price
premium for the hybrid car, strictly because the social characteristic of less pollu-
tion is ‘valuable’ to them. The beauty of the hedonic method is that it allows us
tease out the value to the consumer of each of these three factors (fuel efficiency,
quality differential, and the social characteristic of less pollution).
The hedonic method is based on the notion that the (logarithm of the) price of
a good or service is related to its characteristics or features as follows:
where e is a random error term and Z is a vector of k characteristics or attributes.
These attributes are typically sources of private satisfaction, such as the speed of
=+ +
Guest Editors’ Introduction 13
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Page 13
a computer or the horsepower of an auto engine. The researcher typically esti-
mates a regression, in order to determine the values of the b coefficients. The b
coefficients provide estimates of how much customers are willing to pay for a given
Some characteristics may also have social dimensions, such as aerosol products
with no fluorocarbons or environmentally-friendly lighting. A major advantage of
hedonics, relative to other methods (e.g. focus groups), is that it is based on
observed, not hypothetical data. Hedonics have been used by government agen-
cies and other researchers to ‘price’ individual attributes of computers, autos,
housing, land, and dowries. They are also increasingly being used for more abstract
‘non-market environmental goods’, such as views, clean air, and open space. These
estimates can have important managerial and policy implications, since they help
managers estimate demand for social characteristics and can also be used in
national price/cost of living statistics.
The theoretical and empirical issues discussed above provide an important foun-
dation for understanding the contributions of the articles in this special issue.
These papers shed light on the definitional issues that plague this research, and
demonstrate, both theoretically and empirically, how making clear, specific defini-
tions can result in deeper understanding and guide more rigorous research in
The article by Alfie Marcus and Marc Anderson (2006) poses an interesting
research question, especially in light of our previous discussion of the strategic
implications of CSR. The authors ask whether a firm’s ‘dynamic capability’ influ-
ences its competence in CSR. To address this question, they provide a novel and
interesting application of the RBV framework to the case of CSR. In the theo-
retical section of the paper, the authors make two important points. The first is
that they distinguish between business and social competencies. They also consider
a ‘general dynamic capability’, a term coined by Ghemawat (2001), which
describes such activities as enhancing the absorptive capacity of the firm, bench-
marking, and experimentation.
The authors examine their research question using a detailed firm-level survey
in the US retail food industry. Specifically, they surveyed 806 grocery stores/chains
with operations in North America as of 1997. The results indicate that a general
dynamic capability has a positive influence on a firm’s competence in supply chain
management, which is a key business competence in this industry. However, a
general dynamic capability does not appear to have any influence on a firm’s com-
petence in environmental management, which is a key ‘social’ competence in this
industry. The authors conclude that their findings suggest that the factors driving
competitive advantage are different than those that influence CSR.
14 A. McWilliams et al.
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Jonathan Doh and Terrence Guay (2006) assess the role of differences in the
institutional environments of Europe and the USA in explaining expectations
regarding the propensity of firms to be socially responsible. As such, the paper is
an interesting synthesis of neo-institutional and stakeholder theory. It is a qualita-
tive analysis, consisting of three case studies. Specifically, the authors assess the
roles that US and European non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have played
in influencing CSR policies in three areas: the trade and regulation of genetically-
modified organisms (GMOs), pharmaceutical pricing and distribution policies, and
international environmental agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol Treaty.
The case studies reveal the role of institutional differences in these two regions
in influencing government policy, corporate strategy and NGO activism related to
CSR. Specifically, the authors find that these factors play an important role in
determining how CSR is perceived and implemented in the USA and Europe. A
key implication of the Doh and Guay study is that any cross-country comparison
of the propensity of firms to engage in CSR should take into account these insti-
tutional differences.
In the next article, Bryan Husted and José de Jesus Salazar pose another inter-
esting research question: is it better for firms to act strategically with respect to
CSR than to be coerced into making such investments? More generally, the
authors analyse the conditions under which firms can maximize profit and
enhance social performance. As such, they take the theory of the firm perspective
on CSR seriously, since they conduct a cost/benefit analysis of social responsibil-
ity. This technique was proposed by McWilliams and Siegel (2001).
Husted and De Jesus Salazar model this cost/benefit analysis under three sce-
narios concerning the firm’s desire to engage in CSR: altruism, ‘coerced egoism’,
and the strategic use of CSR. Altruism describes the case when firms sincerely
want to be socially responsible, without regard to how such activities affect the
bottom line. Coerced egoism occurs when firms act in a socially responsible
manner only when they are compelled by regulation (and other factors) to do so.
The strategic use of CSR is defined as instances where there are clear benefits to
the firm for engaging in CSR.
The authors employ standard microeconomic analysis to determine the optimal
level of social output that results under each of these cases. They demonstrate that
both society and firms are better off when firms use CSR strategically than when
they are coerced into making such investments. This is a conclusion that would
make Adam Smith smile.
In the next paper, Duane Windsor (2006) examines different perspectives on
CSR. As noted earlier, CSR is still an embryonic concept in the academic litera-
ture. Windsor’s essay is a tour-de-force on the evolution on three opposing per-
spectives on CSR: economic, philosophical, and global corporate citizenship. As
he defines it, the economic viewpoint focuses on the firm’s ability to use CSR as
a tool to create wealth, implies minimal government intervention to promote CSR,
Guest Editors’ Introduction 15
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2006
Page 15
and advocates that the firm adopt prevailing business ethics. On the other hand,
the philosophical perspective results in moral reflection on CSR and should lead
to higher levels of CSR and other forms of altruism. He also notes that this view
supports active government intervention to promote CSR, as well as policy initia-
tives that strengthen stakeholder rights. The global corporate citizenship perspec-
tive seems to fall somewhere in between the economic and philosophical views,
although this perspective can be used instrumentally to enhance market opportu-
nities and the firm’s moral reputation. The author concludes by discussing the
implications of each of these perspectives for CSR scholarship.
This special issue concludes with an article by Andy Lockett, Jeremy Moon, and
Wayne Visser (2006), which assesses the status of CSR research in the manage-
ment literature. Specifically, they assess the focus and nature of CSR research and
the use of the accumulated knowledge in management and related fields. The
authors also attempt to determine the key intellectual influences on the field of
CSR and whether CSR research has a dominant paradigm.
Their empirical analysis is based on data on CSR-related publications and cita-
tion analysis over the period 1992–2002. The authors identified CSR-related arti-
cles in the following journals: Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management
Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Journal of Management, Organization Science,
Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Management Studies, Harvard Business Review,
Sloan Management Review, and California Management Review.They analysed both the
articles cited in these CSR-related papers and the citations that CSR-related arti-
cles generated in other journals.
They found that the ‘field’ is in a ‘continuing state of emergence’, a term coined
by Thomas Kuhn (1962). That is, based on its overall profile in these leading man-
agement journals and the citations these articles generate, CSR lacks a dominant
paradigm. This is an obvious call to action for concerned researchers.
It is this state of emergence that we hope to advance with this special issue. The
papers here exemplify the variety of perspectives that have been brought to bear
on CSR. They also demonstrate an increasing ability to clearly define the con-
struct of CSR (albeit not necessarily all agreeing on the definition) and build strong
theoretical arguments and high-quality empirical studies that will provide an effec-
tive springboard for future research in CSR.
*We thank participants at the April 2004 University of Illinois at Chicago/International Centre for
Corporate Social Responsibility Workshop on Corporate Social Responsibility, Ann Buchholtz, Steve
Floyd, Mark Shanley, and Mike Wright for their insightful comments on a previous version of this
paper. The second author also gratefully acknowledges financial support from the School of Human-
ities and Social Sciences and the Lally School of Management and Technology at Rensselaer Poly-
technic Institute.
[1] For the benefit of non-US readers, the United Way is a global network of non-profit, philan-
thropic organizations. In the USA, many employees (especially those working for large organi-
16 A. McWilliams et al.
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zations) donate a small fraction of their salaries to United Way, which is then distributed to a
specific charity (or charities) that is part of the network.
[2] The workshop was jointly sponsored by the College of Business Administration at the Univer-
sity of Illinois at Chicago and the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility
(ICCSR) at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
[3] See Kor and Mahoney (2004), Lockett and Thompson (2004), and Rugman and Verbeke (2004)
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    • "At the meso-level, they are impacted by the rules of the EBR 28,3 game in their industry. Although CSR has been discussed and researched for decades, according to McWilliams et al. (2006), it is still an emerging area of inquiry. Moreover, CSR research is often characterized as fragmented (Aguinis and Glavas, 2012). "
    No preview · Article · May 2016 · European Business Review
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    • "The main reason for designing the current study lies in the fact that the extant literature on developing countries has scarcely approached the relationship between the aforementioned variables. Achieving holistic business performance is linked to considering all the factors of sustainable development, especially in the context of developed countries [9,[11][12][13][14], and, consequently, investigating a complementary perspective would fill a research gap. From this perspective, the main research question is whether there is a positive relationship between sustainable entrepreneurship and business performance in the case of Romanian SMEs. "
    Preview · Article · Apr 2016 · Sustainability
  • Source
    • "Therefore, Van Marrewijk (2003) understands CSR as a tailored process in which each organization should select specific sustainability goals to adapt to the changes and challenges of the environment. Similarly, McWilliams, Siegel, and Wright (2006) argue that corporate social responsibility acts as an enabler for companies involved, according to their characteristics and objectives , social and environmental actions as well as other emerging demands of society, the industry and community. The above statements highlight how the size or organizational structure of a company may affect the definition of CSR objectives. "
    Full-text · Dataset · Apr 2016
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