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Defining corporate social responsibility: a view from big companies in Germany and the UK

Silberhorn, Daniel and Warren, Richard C. (2007) Defining corporate social responsibility: a view from big companies in Germany and the UK. European business review, 19 (5). pp. 352-372. ISSN 1758-7107

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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this comparative study is to explore how large German and British companies publicly define corporate social responsibility (CSR), as well as why and how the respective notion of CSR was developed. Design/methodology/approach – The study is based on a qualitative content analysis of the CSR web sites of 40 British and German companies, and on a series of interviews with senior managers. Findings – The main findings are that CSR is now presented as a comprehensive business strategy, arising mainly from performance considerations and stakeholder pressure. Companies focus on how they interact with stakeholders and how business activities impact on society. Most CSR policies addressed community, employee and customer issues. Increasingly, “quality of life” topics are emphasised. CSR policies varied with turnover, industry sector and nationality. In developing their notions of CSR, firms emphasized the primacy of reactive pragmatism and experience. Corporate culture also emerged as an influence, with institutionalised CSR functions and communications departments driving initiatives. The study concludes that business and CSR strategy appear to be on a convergent path, making business and CSR integration across the company the norm in future. Research limitations/implications – Owing to the study's exploratory character, the samples are not representative for the British and German economies. Practical implications – The study suggests that especially German companies could benefit more from demonstrating a broad, business-driven understanding of CSR. Originality/value – Contributing to a deeper understanding of notions, rationales and influences, the study provides both science and practice with a more solid foundation for discussing and implementing CSR. It also broadens the perspective by looking at Germany and the UK.

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