Exploring CSR in Sweden, Thailand and Brazil : Insights from the Construction Industry
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has recently been the subject of increased attention, both in the academic and the corporate arena. In general, definitions of CSR seem to have in common the idea that businesses make a decision to commit to social and environmental issues and go beyond their legal obligations. In practice, corporations define their approach to CSR by using their own lenses, being influenced by factors at regional, national, industrial and corporate levels.
Although there is an increasing pressure on corporations to play a more explicit role in the welfare of society and the importance of behaving socially responsibly is well accepted in the literature(Falck and Heblich, 2007), there have been very few attempts at identifying how companies from different geographical regions themselves define and interpret CSR (Baughn et al, 2007; Maignan and Ralston, 2002). Most of the cross-national studies on CSR have focused on the situation within Europe (Aaronson, 2002; Perrini, 2005; Silberhorn and Warren, 2007) or between Europe and the U.S (Maignan and Ralston, 2002). Besides, CSR researchers usually focus on industries acknowledged as problematic in environmental issues. Although construction industry has a bad reputation of “poor quality and service, a bad safety record, and a history of broken promises and sharp practice” (Wood et. al, 2002:4), it is one of the less approached industries in the CSR literature.
Such theoretical considerations led to the interest in exploring how top companies in the Construction industry of Sweden, Thailand and Brazil approach CSR. The authors aim to contribute to fulfill the gap of CSR theories by exploring cross-national similarities and differences based on the nature of motivations underlying CSR practices, CSR processes, stakeholder issues as well as the main factors shaping such similarities and differences.
In the empirical part, a three way cross-national CSR study was conducted. The top construction companies from Sweden, Thailand and Brazil were chosen, totalizing twelve firms. The study was carried out using a qualitative approach, employing as the research method the analysis of corporate disclosure through organizational documents. The results for each country were then analyzed and compared in order to reveal similarities and differences in CSR approaches.
Results suggest a predominant CSR value-driven approach, which might indicate that CSR has come a long way from its early roots of charity to become a strategic business practice inserted in corporate values. Although the cross-national differences were apparently mainly shaped by regional factors, the industry sector has emerged as an important factor shaping the areas of cross-national agreement.
Swedish companies are strongly focused on environmental issues and stress the idea of sustainability, whereas Thai companies use Corporate Governance to group CSR activities, denoting a focus on legal compliance. Brazilian companies show high concern for social issues, which can be perceived in the nature of CSR processes the companies present, the stakeholders addressed and in the role companies seem to take as social agents, fulfilling the gap left by the national government.
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