The purpose of this paper is to investigate the proactive role elite organizations play within-network corporate social responsibility (CSR) performance by determining whether organizations can be identified that serve as aspirational CSR role models. The assumption is that elite CSR performance inspires and challenges other in-network actors to raise their standards in order to be legitimate, and resource rewardable.Design/methodology/approachThree cases are discussed to exemplify elite CSR: historical: recognizing the value of embracing a trend in improved standards of meatpacking, Armour Meatpacking campaigned for sanitary meatpacking and implemented strategic change; global energy: Chevron Corporation conducts “business in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, respecting the law and universal human rights to benefit the communities where we work”; and non-profit: “Elite” universities’ CSR standards attract bright faculty and students and build beneficial relationships with industry, government and peers.FindingsElite institutions raise CSR standards by using issue trends to guide strategic change that can performatively demonstrate the societal value of proactive leadership that elevates standards and increases the reward value to communities and organizations that is achieved by adopting higher standards.Research limitations/implicationsThrough micro-politics that increase CSR social productivity, elite CSR standards earn rewards for exemplary organizations and subsequently raise standards for in-network organizations to, in turn, achieve the license to operate.Practical implicationsDiscussions of CSR should consider the influences that establish CSR standards. To that end, this paper offers the explanatory power of a micro-political, societal productivity approach to CSR based on the pragmatic/moral resource dependency paradigm.Social implicationsThe paper reasons that higher CSR standards result when NGO stakeholder critics and/or government agencies exert micro-political pressure. In response to such pressure, elite organizations, those that are or can meet those higher CSR standards, proactively demonstrate how higher CSR standards can accrue resources that benefit them and society. Elite CSR performance challenges other in-network actors to raise standards in order to be legitimate, that is resource rewardable.Originality/valueBecause elite organizations understand the reward advantage of higher levels of CSR, they proactively elevate the discuss of standards and advantages for achieving them, and penalties for falling short.
Corporate Communications: An International Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: May 23, 2019
Keywords: Corporate social responsibility; Aspirational corporate social responsibility; Elite CSR performance; Mimetic neo-institutionalization; Societal productivity CSR