Descriptive, instrumental and strategic approaches to corporate social responsibility: Do they drive the financial performance of companies differently?

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this study is to investigate whether the descriptive, instrumental, and strategic approaches to corporate social responsibility (CSR) are related to corporate performance (CP) and to determine the nature of this relationship, if any. Design/methodology/approach ‐ Using data collected by KLD Research Analytics and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the study examines the association between companies' choice of approaches to the CSR and CSR-CP relationship. Findings ‐ Results of this study indicate that each of the three approaches to CSR ‐ descriptive, instrumental, and strategic ‐ are associated with CP, but in different ways. While the instrumental approach to CSR has a positive association with short-term measures of CP, the strategic approach is associated with short-term and medium-term measures of CP, and the descriptive approach has no definite association with CP at all. Originality/value ‐ This study integrates the prevailing justifications for CSR with the taxonomy of approaches to CSR ‐ instrumental, descriptive and strategic ‐ suggested in the literature. It has been argued that these frameworks influence managers' conception of what constitutes effective stakeholder management and make a difference in how decision makers in an organization think and act in crafting the company's social initiatives and in deciding what the company aims to achieve through these initiatives. By examining the association between companies' approaches to CSR and stakeholder management of the CSR-CP relationship, the study offers another perspective of the ongoing debate in the social accounting literature about the accountability relationships between business and society.
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