Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Communication and Small and Medium Sized Enterprises: The Governmentality Dilemma of Explicit and Implicit CSR Communication

Mette Morsing, Laura J. Spence

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Businesses that promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) through their supply chains by requiring their suppliers to report on and otherwise communicate their CSR are doing a great thing, aren’t they? In this article, we challenge this assumption by focusing on the impact on small and medium sized enterprise (SME) suppliers when their large customer firms pressurize them to make their implicit CSR communication more explicit. We expose a ‘dark side’ to assumed improvements in CSR reporting within a supply chain. We present a conceptual framework that draws on previous research on communication constitutes organization (CCO) theory, implicit and explicit CSR, and Foucault’s governmentality. We identify and discuss the implications of three resulting dilemmas faced by SMEs: authenticity commercialization, values control and identity disruption. The overarching contribution of our article is to extend theorizing on CSR communication and conceptual research on CSR in SME suppliers (small business social responsibility). From a practice and policy perspective, it is not ultimately clear that promoting CSR reporting among SMEs will necessarily improve socially responsible practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)1920-1947
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Authenticity
  • CSR communication
  • Communication Constitutes Organization (CCO)
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • Explicit and implicit CSR
  • Identity
  • Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs)
  • Small business social responsibility
  • Supply chain
  • Values

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