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R.A.R.E. Résumé de rapport

Project ID: 506043
Financé au titre de: FP6-CITIZENS
Pays: Germany

Final Report Summary - R.A.R.E. (Rhetorics and realities - analysing corporate social responsibility in Europe)

The RARE project was funded under the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Its overarching goal was to evaluate and explain impacts of Corporate social responsibility (CSR) on sustainability. The researchers were specifically interested in the extent to which CSR impacts contribute to the achievement of sustainability goals set by the European Union (EU). The focus was on CSR impacts created within Europe rather than in developing countries.

Seven leading European research institutions developed and applied a methodology to assess CSR impacts on four different CSR issue areas. These were: mitigation of climate change and chemical risk, resource management in marine fisheries, promoting gender equality and countering bribery. Empirical studies were conducted among European CSR leaders in the oil industry, the banking sector and fish processors. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the automotive sectors of Austria and Hungary were researched as well. Another empirical study strove to understand the effects of EU accession on corporate responsibility (and vice versa) in Hungary.

The researchers first looked at the meaning of responsibility as it is used in the notion of CSR. Building on this insight, they analysed the CSR activities of companies in three business sectors: the oil industry, the banking sector and the fisheries and fish processing industries. Different instruments of corporate responsibility relevant to the business sectors and four policy fields were researched and examined. Building upon these first empirical insights, the project team embarked upon in-depth case studies in order to analyse:
a) the impact of CSR in the four policy fields; and
b) drivers of such CSR impact.
A study on CSR in the SME sector and on CSR in the context of EU enlargement completed the analysis. In a separate module, the role of CSR within complex governance systems was examined. Finally, the team synthesised the main findings from their empirical work and theoretical advancement. As a result, they produced a paper containing policy recommendations on how politics and companies can achieve to make CSR more effective.

Whilst policy research has concentrated on public policy instruments to date, CSR research has mainly focused on CSR management in companies and the impacts of such commitment on intra-company organisation and strategies as well as on financial performance. Up to now, scant research has been carried out addressing the impacts of CSR on society and the environment.

The RARE project aimed to partly fill this gap. The project partners chose not to analyse how corporate responsibility affects the business case or companies' reputation, as these important questions have been addressed elsewhere. Rather, the perspective of public policy was adopted to enquire into how the private sector can contribute to achieving politically set goals on sustainable development. Specifically, the RARE project worked as a looking glass through which companies' voluntary contributions can be examined.

At the socio-political level, where the focus of analysis lies, the team strived to evaluate the contribution of CSR to the achievement of the EU's policy goals in four areas of sustainable development: environmental protection (climate and chemicals policies), sustainable fisheries, gender equality and the countering of bribery.

Measuring the impact that voluntary corporate activities have on sustainability goals is a substantial methodological challenge. In order to meet these challenges, the research partners elaborated a qualitative approach consisting of three steps:
- identifying CSR effects: Effects resulting from the adoption of CSR are identified, taking into account changes in commitment and strategy ('CSR output'), concrete practices ('CSR outcome') and the consequences for society and the environment ('CSR impact');
- analysing relative improvement or goal attainment through CSR: An analysis is made as to whether adoption of CSR makes a difference compared to a hypothetical baseline of corporate performance without voluntary action, thus identifying any relative improvement through CSR. Relating achievements to absolute benchmarks such as EU policy goals is a complementary option;
- establishing a causal relationship: Identified improvement between compliance-level behaviour and the observed company's practices is ideally related to the CSR commitment and resulting changes in practice.

The data for assessing and explaining CSR impacts was gained by means of:
- a survey among enterprises committed to CSR - 49 respondents in the oil, banking, fish processing sectors and SMEs in the automotive supply chain; and
- in-depth case studies including company and stakeholder interviews for 10 (non-SME) companies.

The RARE project aimed at making a significant contribution to the European Research Area (ERA) with interdisciplinary insights into CSR and by advancing method development among researchers from all over Europe.

Key results that were gained during the project are:
- increased knowledge about the impacts of CSR in Europe and especially, on structural differences in CSR performance according to company size, sector, and issue area;
- increased knowledge about the efficacy of CSR and the role it could play in achieving public policy goals;
- policy recommendations for companies, national governments and the EU, promoting elements of a European approach to CSR.

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