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TBGI Working Paper 19

Organizational Fields, Transnational Business Governance Interactions and the Diffusion of CSR

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Melanie Coni-Zimmer

April 2014

Abstract

The paper analyzes the process of global diffusion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the oil industry and how interactions between different actors have contributed to this outcome. It starts from the empirical puzzle that CSR has spread globally among transnational corporations since the mid 1990s (diffusion of CSR as a dependent variable).

To explain this phenomenon, the paper presents a theoretical argument based on insights from sociological neo-institutionalism. It uses the concept of organizational fields as social spaces where organizations interact with one another. The structuration of an organizational field leads to processes of homogenization among the organizations belonging to it.

Empirically, the paper explores the case of the oil industry. It can be shown that an organizational field has developed around the issue of CSR. Actors constituting the organizational field are identified, including multi-stakeholder-initiatives (e.g. EITI and Voluntary Principles), international organizations, NGOs, governmental actors and transnational corporations. The organizations interact with each other and engage in the definition and promotion of CSR standards. As a result of field-level interactions an increasingly dense normative transnational environment has developed where expectations regarding the appropriate behavior of corporations are formulated. With regard to the dependent variable, data on the diffusion of CSR is presented and similarities and differences between corporate CSR approaches are discussed.

Keywords

Neo-institutionalism, organizational fields, diffusion, corporate social responsibility, oil industry, transnational standards