How Well are Water Companies Engaged in CSR? A Critical Cross-geographical Discourse Analysis

Linne Marie Lauesen

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate how well water companies in four different nationalities and political cultures are engaged in the CSR discourse. This question is relevant after more than 20 years of privatization of the public administration's bureaucracy and its adoption of management styles, behaviours and thinking from the private business sphere. This paper seeks to critically examine how water companies take part in the CSR discourse, by which institutional mechanisms this managerial “thinking” in terms of institutional “logics” has come about, and which adopted “meanings” lie behind.
    Design/methodology/approach – The paper shows a qualitatively, ethnographic investigation and discourse analysis of privatized water companies from four different political and market economy nations; small- and medium-sized water companies from the social-democratic state of Denmark; large size companies from the conservative and liberal market economy of the UK; large- and multinational companies from the USA and medium-, large- and multinationals from South Africa. Seven companies are chosen in each country from the smallest to the largest in order to obtain maximum variety and express analytical generalizations across nations and company sizes if possible.
    Findings – The findings of the cross-geographical, -political, -market economical study of maximum variety of companies show how institutional logics are transferring from “implicit” CSR towards “explicit” CSR through coercive, normative and mimetic isomorphism: companies that are only engaged in coercive isomorphic “implicit” CSR show a hesitant and resistant engagement, whereas companies engaging in normative and mimetic isomorphic “explicit” CSR translate their discourses in a more authentic way. However, the findings also question the credibility of this authenticity when most CSR-reports from the water companies are made without third party accreditation, without performance indicators and only through narratives that are hard to scrutinize.
    Research limitations/implications – The research has limitations towards the discourse analysis, which in Denmark was possible to conduct from both oral texts such as interviews, observation studies and document analysis, whereas in the UK, the USA and South Africa is based only on written texts from documents, CSR-reports, annual reports and written communications between regulators and companies. The research implications suggest a further replication of the findings from a more in-depth analysis of the institutional logics in these companies in the UK, the USA and South Africa by replication of the study from Denmark.
    Practical implications – The practical implications of this study suggest a transformation of political instrumentation from rule-setting to incentives making to make public water service companies even more engaged in “explicit” CSR to obtain more authenticity and a higher level of legitimacy in the field compared to the strong tradition of “explicit” CSR seen in the private business sphere.
    Originality/value – The originality and value of this research is shown by the empirical findings of the theoretical suggestions by Matten and Moon in how “implicit” CSR is transferred to “explicit” CSR in the privatization of public service companies in the water sector across nations, cultures, political and market economical spheres. It shows through the discourse analysis of institutional logics how institutional isomorphism is prevalent in this sector and how New Public Management systems need to conform from instrumental rule-making to incentive-making to make public service adopt CSR in a more authentic way.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalSocial Responsibility Journal
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)115-136
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

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