Loughborough University
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Defining and deterring corporate social irresponsibility: embracing the institutional complexity of international business

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-05-19, 08:02 authored by Stephen Brammer, Giulio Nardella, Irina Surdu
This paper aims to put forward a definition of corporate social irresponsibility (CSI) which is relevant to the study of complex organizations and in particular, the multinational enterprise (MNE). This paper then offers a framework as a foundation to discuss the institutional complexity of CSI to aid international business (IB) scholars, practitioners and policymakers achieve a clearer understanding of the mechanisms that may penalize and subsequently deter MNE irresponsibility.

In presenting the approaches taken by social regulation researchers and IB policy scholars to understand MNE irresponsibility, this paper proposes a definition of CSI and explicates the various mechanisms associated with deterring MNEs from behaving irresponsibly.

Therefore, how can MNEs be deterred from behaving irresponsibly? To further the research agenda concerning CSI in IB, far less common are a definition of CSI relevant to the complex IB context; and a framework that explicates both the legal and social components of CSI, particularly as they unfold in a complex, diverse and often divergent institutional landscape. Overcoming these two primary obstacles is important because when complexities associated with CSI emerge, researchers need to be able to ascertain and expound upon what they are observing so that comparisons can be made and more MNE CSI research can be accrued over time.

Research limitations/implications
To help the development of future research, we offered a more precise definition of CSI, one which is more relevant to the study of the MNE and the complex contemporary IB environment. By embracing complexities, this paper also outlines an institutional complexity approach, one which highlights both the role of formal and informal regulatory institutions. Though IB has traditionally focused on the role of formal regulation, there is much more to be unearthed by exploring the additional and concurrent influence of social regulatory institutions.

Practical implications
There is a high level of heterogeneity in the motivations and modes used by MNEs to enter international markets, which likely influence efforts made by these firms to adapt to different types of formal and social institutional pressures. When firms invest significantly in a market, they have a greater economic dependence in that market and institutions have a greater opportunity to exert pressures. For instance, foreign direct investment requires a higher level of (longer-term) commitment, transfer of capital, exchange of expertise and learning, meaning that firms depend much more on local authorities to perform in the market and accomplish their goals.

Social implications
Enabled by new technologies and, particularly, social media platforms, stakeholders can now engage in organized forms of regulatory activities, as is evident in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, black lives matter and gender equality social activist movements. Through prominent collective actions, the impacts of globally organized social movements may be increasingly non-location bound, placing MNE managers at the heart of new challenges and opportunities to engage with global stakeholders. Infomediaries such as the press, have always been of historical importance, due to their role in shaping stakeholder expectations and opinions of the firm and thus, the reputation and legitimacy of that firm.

This study enriches the understanding of what CSI is, why we are likely to observe it in practice and how it affects MNEs. This paper offers a definition of CSI that is sufficiently nuanced to capture the complexity of the contemporary IB environment, as well as a framework that, this paper proposes, presents a clearer understanding of the institutional mechanisms that may deter MNEs from behaving irresponsibly. By encouraging scholars to examine the institutional complexity of MNE CSI, the paper hopes to contribute toward building a bridge which connects the IB policy and social regulation research streams.



  • Business and Economics


  • Business

Published in

Multinational Business Review








Emerald Publishing Limited


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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© Emerald Publishing Limited

Publisher statement

This paper was accepted for publication in the journal Multinational Business Review and the definitive published version is available at https://doi.org/10.1108/MBR-02-2021-0011.

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  • en


Dr Giulio Nardella. Deposit date: 18 May 2021