Corporate Social Responsibility in Europe
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Corporate Social Responsibility in Europe

Rhetoric and Realities

Edited by Regine Barth and Franziska Wolff

The acid test of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is simply this: does it lead to positive impacts on society and the environment or is it just rhetoric? And if it does lead to positive impacts, how can these be enhanced? This timely book tackles this cutting-edge challenge by presenting empirical findings from a range of surveys and in-depth case studies. These build on a new methodological and theoretical framework for assessing and explaining the sustainability impact of CSR.
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Chapter 17: Rhetoric and Realities in CSR: Main Findings and Implications for Public Policy and Research

Franziska Wolff, Regine Barth, Christian Hochfeld and Katharina Schmitt


Franziska Wolff, Regine Barth, Christian Hochfeld and Katharina Schmitt1 17.1 INTRODUCTION In the previous chapters we presented conceptual considerations and empirical findings on the question to what extent and how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) leads to sustainability impact, and what the relevance of this is for public policy. Our focus was on four sectors and a selection of sustainability issues. Empirically, some 50 companies were surveyed, and ten of them studied in-depth. This final chapter serves to sum up some of the main insights of and conclusions from this research, albeit with a specific focus: our interest here is with the implications for public policy and research. We hence present a selective synthesis, which complements the synthesizing work of Chapters 9 and 14. We first take a critical look at the framework which we used to assess the sustainability impact of CSR. Summing up core results on the sustainability effects of CSR (output, outcome and impact) we identified, we then venture upon an answer to our guiding question: is CSR – in the cases we examined – more than mere rhetoric? With a cautious ‘yes, if . . .’ we go on to set out patterns where CSR is more likely to lead to sustainability impact, and where there are systematic limits for CSR impact. The patterns we describe result from such factors as visibility and measurability of a CSR issue, whether the issue affects a company’s core business, institutional density in an issue area and others. This knowledge is relevant for public policy...

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