Taking the responsibility and sharing the responsibility - Critical discourse analysis on responsibility constructions and stakeholder relations in Finnish controversial companies’ CSR reports

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Management and International Business (MIB)
In their CSR reports, companies create a discourse about their responsibilities, relationships with stakeholders and roles in the society. This organizational discourse about CSR can not only affect CSR practices, but the public perception of what is responsible. The extant literature of responsibility discourse is limited, but through examining the CSR reports and emerging discourses this study contributes to both CSR and CSR communication research by demonstrating how controversial companies construct and discuss responsibility as well as whether and how they engage with stakeholders concerning CSR. The objective of this research is to improve the understanding of contemporary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) discourse from a new perspective of Finnish controversial companies. The empirical part of the study draws from a critical discourse analysis of CSR reports from six Finnish controversial companies. Compared to previous literature, this study took a different perspective with a new approach being formed from the combination of controversial industries, responsibility construction and discourse analysis. And thus, the resulting new approach has significance in the CSR literature. The analysis of reports focuses on the discursive construction of CSR, how it is constituted and displayed and how the selected companies see their relationship to their stakeholders when it comes to responsibility matters, thus how they position themselves in society. Four different streams of discourse emerged from the studied reports. Firstly, business discourse frames CSR as a strategic tool that assists the company in generating profit, competitive advantage and growth. The second theme, benevolence discourse, presents companies as being genuinely caring members of the society to whom CSR comes from within. In benevolence discourse, companies voluntarily and actively contribute in developing society, pioneer in responsibility and exceed the societal expectations. The third discourse that emerged is the controversiality discourse, in which companies have varying strategies to tackle the controversiality, ranging from admitting and improving the issues to constraining responsibilities. Considering stakeholder relationship, a separate theme was found. In this fourth discourse, CSR requires participation from various actors and the company encourages, manages and participates in collaboration with different stakeholders. The findings extend the knowledge of how controversial companies and their stakeholders participate in defining the concept of CSR, and how they communicate about their questioned responsibility to wide audiences. It makes visible how controversial actors with strongly established, harmful actions are involved in the construction and redefinition of CSR concept and practices. The related communications can be for example conflicting, inspirational, defensive, and aspirational. CSR is more and more collaborative, but companies and stakeholders have to acknowledge their impact and be critical when it comes to CSR communications, initiatives and practices.
Thesis advisor
Juntunen, Jouni
Corporate Social Responsibility, controversial industries, discourse analysis, social construction, qualitative analysis, Finland
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