What is it about?
Is it all good news when companies are being pushed to be more vocal and explicit when telling the world about their Corporate Social Responsibility priorities and activities? Perhaps so, for the large firm which has the communication muscle to produce the documentation and reports and to engage in the competition for responsible brand recognition. But the small firm with fewer resources and a preference for an implicit CSR communication strategy, may experience some unhelpful unexpected consequences when pushed into the arena of explicit CSR communication. We argue that CSR communication is not ‘just’ communication. It impacts on organizations in multiple complex ways. And not always for the good.
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Why is it important?
Our research has found that looking at CSR from the SME supplier perspective reveals a series of dilemmas which result from large firm CSR communication expectations on their suppliers. At the extreme, rather than raising standards across the supply chain, myopic transfer of large firm expectations to small firm settings could have the opposite effect. We have found that SMEs have to navigate three resulting dilemmas relating to their authenticity, values and identity.
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This page is a summary of: Corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication and small and medium sized enterprises: The governmentality dilemma of explicit and implicit CSR communication, Human Relations, January 2019, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0018726718804306.
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Businesses that promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) through their supply chains by requiring their suppliers to report on and otherwise communicate their CSR are doing a great thing, aren’t they? In this article, we challenge this assumption by focusing on the impact on small and medium sized enterprise (SME) suppliers when their large customer firms pressurize them to make their implicit CSR communication more explicit. We expose a ‘dark side’ to assumed improvements in CSR reporting within a supply chain. We present a conceptual framework that draws on previous research on communication constitutes organization (CCO) theory, implicit and explicit CSR, and Foucault’s governmentality. We identify and discuss the implications of three resulting dilemmas faced by SMEs: authenticity commercialization, values control and identity disruption. The overarching contribution of our article is to extend theorizing on CSR communication and conceptual research on CSR in SME suppliers (small business social responsibility). From a practice and policy perspective, it is not ultimately clear that promoting CSR reporting among SMEs will necessarily improve socially responsible practice.
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