Attitudes About Corporate Social ...
Attitudes About Corporate Social Responsibility: Business Student Predictors Robert W. Kolodinsky Timothy M. Madden Daniel S. Zisk Eric T. Henkel ABSTRACT. Four predictors were posited to affect business student attitudes about the social responsibilities of business, also known as corporate social responsibility (CSR). Applying Forsyth���s (1980, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39, 175���184, 1992, Journal of Business Ethics 11, 461���470) personal moral philosophy model, we found that ethical idealism had a positive relationship with CSR attitudes, and ethical relativism a negative rela- tionship. We also found materialism to be negatively related to CSR attitudes. Spirituality among business students did not significantly predict CSR attitudes. Understanding the relationship between CSR attitudes and the significant predictors has important implications for researchers and teachers in particular. KEY WORDS: ethics, ethical ideologies, corporate social responsibility, CSR, materialism, relativism, ideal- ism, Forsyth Introduction In light of innumerable recent business scandals, sensitizing business students to the importance of individual and collective actions seems increasingly warranted (e.g., Knights and O���Leary, 2006 Sims and Felton, 2006). As business educators, we share a responsibility not only to provide students with opportunities to build business skills, but also to help them to understand the powerful effects that business decisions and actions can have in society and the potential collateral damage they can cause. Unfor- tunately, business education traditionally has been delivered in a way that emphasizes economic rather than relational impacts (Ghoshal, 2005 Pfeffer, 2005), which reflects the typical business myopia on short-term goal achievement and a narrow focus on ������meeting the numbers������ (Callahan, 2004). In short, business education is too often approached from the perspective of an organization-centered world- view focused on financial concerns (Giacalone and Thompson, 2006) and fostering within students an individualistic ethic of personal advantage (Mitchell and Scott, 1990) and materialistic gain (e.g., Giac- alone, 2004 Kasser, 2002). Business effectiveness, however, requires more than just financial and individualistic emphases, and business behavior has both economic and relational impact. Hence, it is imperative that we educators provide students with a more balanced view (Giac- alone, 2004) if we are to help students maximize their careers in business and minimize behavioral harm. We believe a critical step towards helping business students understand this balance is the teaching of ethics and social responsibility. Unlike most other core business school content, the teaching of ethics and social responsibility nec- essarily requires an emphasis and understanding of impact of decisions and behaviors on others. Such a human-centered educational approach (Giacalone and Thompson, 2006) requires adequately address- ing moral, societal, environmental, quality of life, and other important stakeholder-related issues. Whether or not a radical shift from an organization- centered worldview to a human-centered one is warranted in business schools (Giacalone and Thompson, 2006), including social issues and impacts as key threads of business curricula will go a long way toward helping these future businesspeople manage more holistically and effectively in an increasingly stakeholder-sensitive (Brinkmann and Sims, 2001) business world. Journal of Business Ethics (2010) 91:167���181 �� Springer 2009 DOI 10.1007/s10551-009-0075-3
From a stakeholder theory perspective (e.g., Donaldson and Preston, 1995 Freeman, 1984), a primary indicator of business effectiveness is the degree to which businesses recognize and effectively manage their impact on society at large. Commonly referred to as corporate social responsibility (CSR), businesses vary widely in the degree to which they are sensitive to the adverse impacts that their oper- ations have on stakeholders. Whether or not CSR activities actually maximize financial returns (cf., Mackey et al., 2007), CSR proponents nonetheless argue that businesses have social responsibilities beyond shareholder satisfaction and profit maximi- zation (Carroll, 1991 Freeman, 1984) and will more likely maximize long-term effectiveness when they sensitively attend to salient stakeholders (Freeman et al., 2004). While much has been written about CSR and stakeholder theory (e.g., Freeman, 1984), little is known about business student attitudes towards CSR. Knowing business student attitudes towards CSR is important for several reasons. First, the global business community increasingly appears to be embracing CSR as an essential component of improving cor- porate identity and reputation, two characteristics viewed as essential to achieving organizational effec- tiveness (e.g., Cornelius et al., 2007). To the degree that business schools value CSR as important to learning about organizational functioning, under- standing prevailing CSR attitudes will enable business schools to better address CSR content delivery in this increasingly important business area. Second, know- ing about student CSR attitudes will help business professors foster classroom dialogue and facilitate student consideration of alternative viewpoints. Third, knowledge of such attitudes may ultimately help students make better career choices. As business students learn about alternative business strategies that more or less embrace CSR activities, helping students discuss and understand the nature, costs, and benefits of CSR-related activities will only help them to better decide the types of firms with which to be associated and ultimately help manage. This study attempts to take a step toward under- standing some of the factors that may predict whether or not business students embrace the notion that businesses have social responsibilities. Specifically we suggest that ethical attitudes, materialistic values, and spirituality all play important roles in such under- standing. Literature review and hypotheses Corporate social responsibility (CSR) Stakeholder theories suggest that organizations need to address issues beyond shareholder wealth (Donaldson and Preston, 1995 Freeman, 1984). Indeed, businesses in the USA have long felt a ten- sion between satisfying stockholder interests versus those of a wider group of impacted parties (i.e., stakeholders e.g., Bird et al., 2007). As early as 1917, Henry Ford was criticized by shareholders for reinvesting Ford Motor Company profits on plant expansion rather than distributing profits as divi- dends. In defending his actions, Ford suggested that business performs a valuable service to society beyond just making money for shareholders (Lewis, 1976 cited in Lee, 2008). CSR as a field of study began at least six decades ago when Fortune magazine (1946) published an article in which the editors suggested that CSR ������meant that businessmen were responsible for the consequences of their actions in a sphere somewhat wider than that covered by their profit and loss statements������ (cited in Bowen, 1953, p. 44). Even then, CSR was viewed as an important business consideration, as 93.5% of the businessmen surveyed for the article agreed with this statement (cited in Carroll, 1999, p. 270). A primary premise of a seminal book of that era, Social Respon- sibilities of the Businessman (Bowen, 1953), was to ponder the following question, ������What responsibilities to society may businessmen reasonably be expected to assume?������ (p. xi found in Carroll, 1999, p. 270). Since then, CSR has evolved from idiosyncratic philanthropic executives��� activities to widespread acceptance of stakeholder management and incor- poration into strategic performance models (Lee, 2008 Porter and Kramer, 2006). During the past several decades, many CSR definitions have been offered. For example, Bowen (1953, p. 6) suggested that businessmen have an obligation ������to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to fol- low those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society.������ Carroll 168 Robert W. Kolodinsky et al.
(1979, p. 500) suggested four primary components in his CSR definition: ������The social responsibility of business encompasses the economic, legal, ethical, and discretionary expectations that society has of organizations at a given point in time.������ Later, Jones (1980, pp. 59���60) defined CSR as ������the notion that corporations have an obligation to constituent groups in society other than stockholders and beyond that prescribed by law or union contract.������ In a CSR definition review article, Dahlsrud (2006) suggested that CSR involves five primary dimensions: economic, environmental, social, stake- holder, and voluntariness. Most definitions reviewed emphasize the duty businesses have to society (to do social good) and reveal the multifaceted nature of CSR. Moreover, the definitions at least imply (if not explicitly state) that organizations are relational and therefore connected ��� intentionally or not ��� with stakeholders much beyond shareholders and employ- ees. Organizations that sensitively manage these relationships may more likely find CSR efforts to be an important source of competitive advantage and achieve long-term organizational success (e.g., Porter and Kramer, 2006). Based on the foregoing and in the context of our study, we define CSR as an organiza- tion���s ethical duty, beyond its legal requirements and fidu- ciary obligation to shareholders, to sensitively consider and effectively manage its impact on its internal and external relationships and environments. Research on CSR has been accelerating rapidly in the past decade. However, much of the research is either theory focused or case based, leaving much to be left explored empirically. There are however a few studies that help to provide some indication of CSR���s importance as both a predictor and as an outcome for example, it appears that attitudes towards a firm are positive and enhanced when consumers are aware of a firm���s CSR practices (Brown and Dacin, 1997 Creyer and Ross, 1997). Nan and Heo (2007) found that students were most likely to assess a firm favor- ably when viewing an advertisement containing an embedded CSR message related to the firm���s mission (as compared with advertisements with either no CSR message or with a CSR message unrelated to the firm���s products or services). Similarly, consumer awareness of CSR activities appears to bolster a firm���s reputation (Fombrun and Shanley, 1990) and identity attractiveness (Marin and Ruiz, 2007). In addition, Park and Stoel (2005) found socially responsible buying to be positively related to apparel and shoe professionals��� attitudes about the importance of a firm���s ethics and social responsibility. CSR has been an increasingly important area of focus in both academia and in practice. For example, Christensen et al. (2007) found that 42% of the top global MBA programs require CSR in their core content. In the business world, nearly ������90% of Fortune 500 firms embraced CSR as an essential element in their organizational goal, and actively promoted their CSR activities in annual reports������ (Boli and Hartsuiker, 2001). Among the 250 largest multinational firms in 2005, 64% pub- lished formal CSR reports (Porter and Kramer, 2006). Importantly, Bird and colleagues (2007) found that managers who strive to satisfy a wide variety of stakeholders generally do not harm the interests of stockholders. In fact, they found that the stock market appears to highly value firms that meet minimum environmental standards, that manage diversity effectively, and that proactively engage in multiple CSR practices. Given its increasing importance both in academia and in practice, and given the evolution of CSR to include societal expectations of businesses to behave ethically and sensitively, we asked tomorrow���s managers (i.e., business students) about their attitudes about the social responsibilities of businesses. We examined four predictors of CSR attitudes, includ- ing students��� materialistic values, spirituality, and two ethical ideologies or stances: idealism and rela- tivism. Ethical ideologies as predictors of attitudes toward CSR Morality and ethics have a long history of discourse in a variety of contexts, including philosophy, reli- gion, and, more recently, business. Part of what fuels the intensity of this discussion is the belief that people differ in the ways moral dilemmas are viewed and moral judgments are made (e.g., Davis et al., 2001 Schlenker and Forsyth, 1977). In the current study, we apply Forsyth���s (1980, 1992) personal moral philosophy model which explicates two orthogonal dimensions of ethical ideology: idealism and relativism. Attitudes About Corporate Social Responsibility 169