CSR and the pursuit of legitimacy: The pursuit of legitimacy through codes on marketing of food to children in the Danish food industry

Silje Bjelland & Julie Steiner

Student thesis: Master thesis


The objective of the thesis is to shed light on how companies in the Danish food industry pursue legitimacy by adopting codes of conduct on responsible marketing to children, specifically through the Code of Responsible Food Marketing Communication to Children formed in Denmark. The main theme of the thesis is how self-regulation by companies is believed to award these with legitimacy. The underlying issue stems from the debate on initiatives required from businesses to fight one of the biggest health problems of the 21st century, namely child obesity. The call for companies engaging in CSR is based on the fact that by limiting exposure of unhealthy food is a key element in limiting child obesity. Theoretically, the pursuit of legitimacy through CSR actions was explored through three propositions, which framed the discussion on the results from two content analyses conducted; one on a media and one on a company level. The results from the discussion on the first proposition revealed that companies exposed to media pressure were more likely to behave social responsible and adopt codes on responsible marketing. Thus, the perception of CSR in the media can function as a catalyst for companies incorporating CSR actions in their strategy. The main results from the discussion on the second proposition revealed that formal and informal institutions take part in guiding the companies’ actions. Institutions, therefore, influence whether certain actions can ultimately grant companies with legitimacy. The third proposition focused on whether the companies investigated believe to pursue legitimacy by adopting code of conduct. The results revealed that companies believe to pursue legitimacy when adopting codes on responsible marketing, because they have corporate self-interest of gaining legitimacy. The managerial approach to legitimacy shows that the integration of codes on responsible marketing to children distances the codes from their moral foundation. The companies thus believe to gain legitimacy by appear to align managerial self-interest with the values and norms in society, and the ethical attribute of codes is therefore questioned. The companies investigated are not in compliance with the Danish code, which indicates that it is not perceived as a norm or taken for granted. Alternatively, companies formulate codes that are applied across borders. Thus, companies self-regulate to gain strategic legitimacy.

EducationsMSc in International Marketing and Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages169