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The role of accounting in enabling strategic corporate social responsibility: A functionalist, critical and post-modern reading of a case study
Corporations around the world are developing their own strategic approaches to address important social and environmental issues in ways that will yield them financial and competitive advantage. This thesis explores how a large packaging company, PackCo, developed its own strategic approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and explores the role of accounting in this pursuit. The qualitative case study research consisted of some 30 interviews with PackCo managers, conducted over a three year period. The case is analysed through three very different research paradigms: a functional/managerial analysis; a critical analysis; and a post-modern analysis. The functional analysis draws upon Simons’ ‘levers of control’ framework to explore how PackCo used accounting and associated management control systems to enable strategic CSR. It explores how performance metrics, operating procedures and strategy documents were integrated within PackCo to enable a set of environmental initiatives that were both socially responsible and profitable. The critical analysis explores some of the unintended consequences of these environmental initiatives, which were revealed through a survey of PackCo staff attitudes to corporate responsibility. The causes of staff discontent, as revealed by the survey, and the interpretation and response of management to these, are traced back to the intense, and at times brutal, pressure for enhanced financial performance to which both staff and management were subject. The post-modern analysis of the case material explores CSR as a form of socio-ideological control. Rather than accounting enabling CSR, here CSR is argued to effect an ethical framing of managerial work at PackCo, which, for some managers at least, gave greater moral licence to their aggressive pursuit of profit. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the contrasts, conflicts and insights offered by these three different readings of strategic CSR and its relationship to accounting.
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