The rhetoric and reality gap : a sensemaking perspective on corporate social responsibility

Greene, Laura Mary (2012-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The thesis investigates the gap between rhetoric and reality in how organisations use Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for marketing and brand differentiation. The rhetoric reality gap is the gap that develops between what organisations say they do and what they actually do. In terms of CSR, this gap is present as the phenomenon of greenwashing, whereby organisations embellish claims about their social and environmental activities. This leads to sceptical consumers and the discrediting of CSR activities in general. Left unmanaged, the gap presents significant reputation risk. However, the identification of the gap also has the potential for driving the organisation towards more responsible business practices. Previous research focused almost exclusively on organisations' CSR activities and the resultant outcomes and not on the views and judgments about CSR found inside organisations. A shift in focus towards the organisational sensemaking around CSR may better explain the dynamics of the rhetoric and reality gap. Basu and Palazzo's process model of sensemaking for the study of CSR, describes the cognitive, linguistic and conative aspects of sensemaking along seven dimensions to produce a CSR profile of organisations. The thesis uses Basu and Palazzo's model to study CSR in the food retail sector. Comparative case studies were undertaken in three of the largest retailers in South Africa in which various people involved with CSR were interviewed after Basu and Palazzo's (2008) model was operationalised. Thereafter a content analysis of the observed outcomes of organisations' CSR activities was undertaken. The observed outcomes were produced by analysing the organisations advertising strategy, website, use of social media, awards won, integrated reports and media reporting. Combining the content analysis with an analysis of the interviews produced a CSR profile for each of the cases which served as the basis for comparison. It was found that the rhetoric and reality gap of the organisations involved in this study could be explained by the organisations’ CSR profiles. The implications for the management of the rhetoric and reality gap varied between organisations. The success of the classification of the case studies meant that Basu and Palazzo’s model is able to produce a CSR profile for an organisation which can be linked to the observed CSR outcomes. In addition particular CSR profiles can explain the origins of specific rhetoric and reality gaps and how best to manage it.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die tesis ondersoek die retoriek en realiteitsgaping wat ontstaan uit organisasies se Korporatiewe Sosiale Verantwoordelikheidsinisiatiewe (KSV). Die retoriek en realitietsgaping is 'n verskil tussen wat organisasies sê hulle doen en wat hulle werklik doen. In terme van KSV is die gaping teenwoordig as die fenomeen van "greenwashing", waar organisasies hulle bydraes tot sosiale en omgewingsake oordryf. Dit lei tot skeptiese verbruikers en maak KSV-aktiwiteite verdag in die algemeen. As hierdie gaping nie bestuur word nie, kan dit bydra tot merkbare reputasie risiko vir organisasies. Die gaping is nie net 'n risiko nie, maar het ook die potensiaal om organisasies na meer verantwoordelike besigheidspraktyk te dryf. Vorige navorsing oor KSV fokus op organisasies se KSV-aktiwiteite en die uitkomste daarvan en nie op die sienings en oordele oor KSV binne organisasies self nie. Organisatoriese singewingsteorie verskuif die fokus na hoe organisasies sin maak oor KSV en kan die aard van die retoriek en realiteitsgaping beter beskryf as hoofstroom navorsing. Basu en Palazzo (2008) se proses-model van singewing vir die studie van KSV beskryf die kognitiewe, taal en konnatiewe aspekte van singewing oor sewe dimensies om 'n KSV-profiel van organisasies te ontwikkel. In die tesis word Basu en Palazzo se model geoperasionaliseer om KSV in die Suid-Afrikaanse voedsel kleinhandelsektor te bestudeer. Vergelykende gevallestudies is onder drie van die vier grootste kleinhandelaars in Suid-Afrika onderneem waartydens onderhoude met sleutelpersone betrokke by KSV gevoer is. Daarna is 'n inhoudsanalise van die waargenome KSV-uitkomste in elke geval onderneem. Hierdie uitkomste is die resultaat van 'n analise van advertensie-strategieë, webblaaie, gebruik van sosiale media, toekennings, geïntegreerde verslagdoening en media-dekking. Die KSV-profiel is saamgestel deur die inhoudsanalise met die analise van die onderhoude te kombineer. Daar is gevind dat die retoriek en realiteitsgaping van die betrokke organisasies deur die KSV-profiele verduidelik kan word. Die implikasies vir die bestuur van die gaping het gevarieer tussen die drie organisasies. Die sukses van die klassifikasie van die gevallestudies beteken dat Basu en Palazzo se model 'n KSV-profiel kan produseer wat met waargenome KSV-uitkomste verband hou. Verder kan spesifieke KSV-profiele die oorsprong van spesifieke gapings verduidelik en beginpunte bied vir die bestuur daarvan.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/71760
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