The limits of corporate social responsibility

Techniques of neutralization, stakeholder management and political CSR

Gary Fooks, Anna Gilmore, Jeff Collin, Chris Holden, Kelley Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

110 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

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 underdeveloped. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-299
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Volume112
Issue number2
Early online date2 Mar 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013

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neutralization
social responsibility
stakeholder
management
nicotine
Neutralization
Stakeholders
Corporate Social Responsibility
Stakeholder management
manager
regulation
political impact
public interest
synergy
social effects
evidence
economics
decision maker
public health

Keywords

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Governance and policy design
  • smoking

Cite this

The limits of corporate social responsibility : Techniques of neutralization, stakeholder management and political CSR. / Fooks, Gary; Gilmore, Anna; Collin, Jeff; Holden, Chris; Lee, Kelley.

In: Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 112, No. 2, 01.2013, p. 283-299.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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