In search of explanations for corporate social reporting
This study investigates motivations for Corporate Social Reporting (CSR). Considering that CSR remains a largely unregulated phenomenon, calls for normative and empirical research contributing to its theorisation are increasing. However, most frequently single theoretical interpretations are offered, which ignore the potential variety of explanations for the practice in diverse contexts. Concerns are also often expressed over the use of Content Analysis (CA) in CSR research. Although authors generally agree on the decisions with regard to sampling, they do not agree on the measurement units, and there is also a lack of studies reviewing issues pertaining to the context in CA. Thus, this study aims to contribute to the CSR literature by (a) introducing a framework that synthesises the relationships between the theoretical explanations for the phenomenon, and (b) reviewing the use of CA in CSR research, with a focus on CA decisions regarding sampling, recording and context. In pursue of the theoretical objective (a), a number of frequently employed theoretical explanations are reviewed and amalgamated in a revisited legitimacy theory framework, which identified three prime potential drivers for CSR. These include an ethics-focus approach, where legitimacy is achieved by discharging accountability to all identified stakeholders, and two image-focus approaches, where organisations are either interested in maintaining their legitimacy by retaining a positive image, or in opportunistically extending their legitimacy and image. To investigate the applicability of these suggestions, a case study design is adopted, whereby the reactions of five aviation organisations to major legitimacy threats in the form of air crashes are examined. The organisations considered are British Airways, Air France, American Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines. Considering the methodological objective (b) of the study and the fact that the nature of the research, thus, requires measuring the levels of CSR, a mixed-method CA is employed, which (building on a systematic review of the literature) considers not only the variations in the measured levels of CSR prior to, and following, the accidents, but also what is actually stated in the disclosures. The study finds little support for the ethics-focus approach. The majority of the quantitative and qualitative evidence indicates instead that CSR is most often externally driven. Organisations appear to primarily engage with it to ensure they are seen as acting legitimately, in order to minimise existing and potential image threats and maintain profitability. The study, contrary to the literature, also finds that the recording units employed were not consistent in their findings and thus suggests that future studies should consider a variety of recording units. As regards the context, the organisations appear to adopt a 'pecking order' disclosure approach with regard to their reporting media, reporting their substantive positive CSR news via the AR to their most 'critical stakeholders', whilst disclosing "their substantive negative CSR news in the more 'ephemeral' stand-alone reports, which potentially have smaller audience.