How can CSR affect company performance? : A qualitative study of CSR and its effects
In today’s society, there is a growing interest in, and demand for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Reasons for this can be multinational corporations’ increasing influence on world economy as well as scandals revealing horrible working conditions in different industries. In spite of the fact that the demand for CSR is growing, there has always been critics. The most influential critic is Noble Prize winner Milton Friedman, who claims CSR to be a waste of stockholders’ money. However, several articles claim, opposite Friedman, that CSR rather increases a company’s financial performance in the long run. These claims have made us curious about in what way CSR is related to a company’s performance. Moreover, it has led to us wanting to find out how CSR can influence customer perceptions on a product or service offering, and how these influenced perceptions affect company performance.
In order to concretize our problem we have chosen to use the clothing industry as a framework for our study. The choice of industry has its reasons in an increasing public interest in how clothes are manufactured, which is largely because of continuous scandals concerning poor working conditions in the clothing industry.
To find out how CSR can influence customer perceptions and company performance we have studied literature concerning the subject. Furthermore, these theoretical studies have led to us coming up with a model for how CSR can influence customer perceptions and ultimately affect company performance. This model is influenced by Heskett, Jones, Loveman, Sasser and Schlesinger‘s (1994) the Service-Profit Chain as well as by Carroll’s (1991) Pyramid of CSR and Levitt’s (1980) Total Product Concept. We call the model the Value Linking Chain and it depicts how different elements are put into an offer. Furthermore, how this offer is evaluated, both before and after the purchase, by customers and how those evaluations affect the company performance. In order for us to test this model empirically, we have interviewed representatives from companies, customers and non-government organizations.
The analysis indicates that customers are ready to boycott companies that do not behave socially responsible. This has lead to us widening our theoretical scope and revising the Value Linking Chain, which evolved into the CSR-Performance Chain.
In conclusion, CSR can influence customer perceptions on a product or service offering and in the end affect company performance through the links in the CSR-Performance Chain. Furthermore, we have found that companies’ level of CSR must lie on or above customers’ baseline (i.e. minimal acceptable level) in order for them to avoid boycotts, since boycotts affect company performance negatively.
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