Karen Smith Bogart, Fielding's School of Human & Organizational Development
Scholars have recognized Board responsibilities in strategy, business performance guidance, resource provision, fiduciary duty, governance, stakeholder engagement, and social responsibility (Columbia Business School, 2011; Hillman & Dalzeil, 2003; Landefeld et al., 2006; OECD, 1999; Tricker, 2009). This study explores whether the Board of Directors influences corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts in US public companies that are recognized as CSR leaders. It aims to surface their understanding of corporate social responsibility, its fit to business objectives, and the consequences for their role, responsibility, and actions. Accordingly, it considers the emerging union of corporate governance and corporate social responsibility (Gill, 2008).
This work is situated in core scholarly literature regarding organizational theory offering diverse views of the firm, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, and leadership influence. It utilizes Stakeholder Theory as the scholarly basis to consider the role, responsibility, and influence of the Board of Directors in CSR initiatives. The broader literature provides the theoretical and contextual foundation for questioning and analysis. The research is a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews of one to three independent Board Directors at seven US Fortune 1000 public firms. The research population is defined as US public firms that are favorably assessed in the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index, a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that lists U.S. companies that have positive Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) characteristics (MSCI, 2011). The study is augmented through evaluation of text including public information from company reports, communications, website information, and third-party assessments.
The results include varying Board interpretation of corporate social responsibility, assessment of the strategic materiality to the firm’s long-term value maximization, and description of their involvement. This reflects differences in Board assessment of their shared purpose, structure, processes, understanding of CSR, and related capability. These learnings may challenge scholars to further explore the junction of corporate social responsibility and governance as well as CSR’s impact on the achievement of strategic business advantage. They may encourage practitioners to seek alignment of objectives and steps to build company value through corporate social responsibility that benefits society and the firm.