Responsibility and collaboration : empirical studies of corporate social responsibility in food retail
Abstract: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a widely debated concept among academics, practitioners and non-practitioners. By definition, CSR concerns the economic, legal, political, environmental and social responsibilities of a business to its stakeholders and society at large. The conventional view of the role of business in society is to act as a market place and make a profit, in a space where demand meets supply. However, extending the role of CSR to include ethical responsibilities often raises questions of why and how? In this thesis, a qualitative research design was used to examine how businesses, more specifically Swedish food retailers, approach their extended responsibilities in society. The analysis focused in particular on collaborations between retail food businesses and other actors. Food retailers hold a key position in forming a link between producers and consumers in the value chain. They are socially and economically tied to a number of problems facing consumers on local level and in the wider global community, such as climate change, food security and public health. Such problems are often complex and based on value conflicts among various stakeholders, and therefore cannot be resolved in isolation. In conditions of social connectedness, responsibility lies with all actors, with businesses considered to have a privileged position in terms of their negotiating power and ability for collective action. The food retail sector is therefore an interesting empirical setting for studying CSR. In four empirical studies, different CSR activities in Swedish food retailers’ approaches to taking responsibility for social, environmental or political issues linked directly or indirectly linked to their operations were scrutinised. These activities included different forms of stakeholder engagement, such as partnership, dialogue or multi-stakeholder initiatives. The results indicated that through CSR, food retailers in collaboration with other actors can co-create value and proactively engage in driving (social) change. Responsibility can thus be viewed as the shared objective of collaborations between businesses, organisations and society at large, rather than being attributable to a single actor.
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