Understanding Power-related Strategies and Initiatives: The Case of the European Commission Green Paper on CSR

Massimo Contrafatto, John Ferguson, David Power, Lorna Stevenson, David Collison

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Abstract

Purpose: This paper provides a theoretically informed analysis of a struggle for power over the regulation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and Social and Environmental Accounting and Reporting (SEAR) within the European Union (EU).

Design: The paper combines insights from institutional theory (Lawrence, 2008; Lawrence and Buchanan, 2017) with Vaara et al.’s (2006) and Vaara and Tenari’s (2008) discursive strategies approach in order to interrogate the dynamics of the institutional “arena” that emerged in 2001, following the European Commission’s publication of a Green Paper (GP) on CSR policy and reporting. Drawing on multiple sources of data (including newspaper coverage, semi-structured interviews and written submissions to the European Commission by companies and NGOs) we analyse the institutional political strategies employed by companies and NGOs – two of the key stakeholder groupings who sought to influence the dynamics and outcome of the European initiative.

Findings: Our results show that the 2001 GP was a “triggering event” (Hoffman, 1999) that led to the formation of the institutional arena that centred on whether CSR policy and reporting should be voluntary or mandatory. Our findings highlight how two separate, but related forms of power (systemic and episodic power) were exercised much more effectively by companies compared to NGOs. More specifically, our analysis of the power initiatives and discursive strategies deployed in the arena provide a theoretically informed understanding of the ways in which companies acted in concert to reach their objective of maintaining CSR and SEAR as a voluntary activity.

Originality/value: The theoretical framework outlined in the paper highlights how the analysis of CSR and SEAR regulation can be enriched by examining the deployment of episodic and systemic power by relevant actors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-587
Number of pages29
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Volume33
Issue number3
Early online date17 Dec 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2019

Keywords

  • Social and Environmental Accounting and Reporting
  • Green Paper
  • Institutional Politics
  • Power-infused dynamics
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Policy

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