Corporate social responsibility communication in apparel retail industry

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Forest Economics

Abstract: The apparel industry is accused of being socially and environmentally irresponsible. Due to the growing awareness of the social and environmental impact caused by the apparel industry, stakeholders are increasingly vigilant and demand ethical corporate behavior. For that reason, it has become crucial for apparel companies to adopt corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their operations so that their behavior can be legitimized with their constituents. CSR communication is a delicate topic, and it is not just about communicating a commitment to environmental and social issues, it is also important that stakeholders understand the company's motives for these commitments. Research that studies the environmental and social dimensions of CSR communication is lacking in the garment industry. Therefore, it was of interest in this study to explain how CSR communication has changed over time in the apparel retail industry and how stakeholders were considered in CSR communication. To meet the aim of the study, a comparative case study was conducted where the CSR communication of three large clothing retailers was analyzed. The clothing retailers are KappAhl, MQ, and ASOS. The empirical results were collected from the annual reports of the selected companies and considered the years 2012/2013, 2014/2015 and 2018/2019. The study's findings suggest that all companies showed strong commitments to social and environmental concerns, but to varying degrees. CSR communication went from considering a few social and environmental matters to considering the product’s entire life cycle. An important change identified over the years, is how CSR communication went from communicating a few contributions in some part of the product’s life cycle, to communicating collaborations with other stakeholders to implement common codes of conduct and innovative sustainable business practices that influence the industry. CSR communication went from considering an internal and local perspective to consider industrial matters, suggesting that the idea of corporate responsibility has changed over the years. The main motive behind these CSR commitments was to meet stakeholder expectations, which indicated strong extrinsic motives behind CSR communication throughout the years. The study also suggests that the two-way symmetric communication strategy describes how organizations can achieve legitimacy through strategic communication with its stakeholders. As CSR practices became considered at the industrial level, collaborations and dialogue with stakeholders increased throughout the years. Involving stakeholders in CSR communication also increases transparency. This study suggests connections between organizational legitimacy and stakeholder involvement strategy, which is also connected to the institutional expectations on the company and their CSR commitments and motives.

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