The prospects for corporate social reporting (CSR) in Bangladesh
The main objective of this study is to explore the emerging practice of CSR in Bangladesh. As this is the first comprehensive study of CSR in Bangladesh it is primarily exploratory in nature. Using the lens of stakeholder theory the study examines whether the current practice of CSR in Bangladesh is motivated by a desire to discharge accountability to all relevant stakeholders or is mainly driven by the imperative of strategic management of powerful stakeholders only with a view to advancing corporate economic interests. In investigating this question, a qualitative analysis of corporate social disclosures is made in order to examine corporate attitudes towards social, ethical and environmental issues as represented in the texts of annual reports. The sample of reports analysed comprises 79 top listed companies (including six multinationals) as well as eight public sector companies under the control of Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC). In addition to this analysis of published reports 34 semi-structured interviews with managers and stakeholder groups have been carried out to critically examine their perceptions towards the phenomenon of CSR in Bangladesh. The results of the study show that Bangladeshi companies make very few social disclosures. The majority of the companies studied do not address the crucial issues of corruption, child labour, equal opportunities and poverty alleviation. Analysis of disclosures indicates that companies attach far more importance to the economically dominant stakeholders such as, shareholders, customers and employees ignoring the rights of social stakeholders such as local community, natural environment and the wider society. The interviews with managers emphasised the paramount importance of strategic management of key economic stakeholders. Interviews with various stakeholder groups suggest that they view the corporate response to social, ethical and environmental issues as essentially cosmetic and part of a public relations campaign. While both the managerial group and the stakeholder groups indicated a belief that CSR would increase in future, inter alia, the driving force behind such increase appears to be strong pressure from `outside' forces such as parent companies of multinationals, international buyers and international agencies. The study concludes that in their pursuit of CSR corporations are basically motivated by their desire to strategically manage their key powerful stakeholders. They achieve this, sadly, often at the expense of economically weak social stakeholders.