Some evidence on executives' views of corporate social responsibility

David Woodward, Pam Edwards, Frank Birkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper draws upon the concepts of organizational legitimacy, political economy of accounting and agency theory, and subsequently combines these with stakeholder analysis, in an attempt to analyse the attitudes towards their perceived social responsibility on the part of the executives of a small sample of large, UK companies. In the conceptual model developed, organizational legitimacy is perceived as a way of examining corporate behaviour, whereby a business is visualized as operating under a mandate from society, withdrawable were the organization be seen not to be doing the things society expects of it. There is, however, an alternative political economy of accounting view, suggesting corporate behaviour might be perceived as more proactive, with company directors attempting to 'set the agenda', such as to manipulate societal opinion towards a favourable view of corporate activity. Agency theory is then utilized in an attempt to establish the connection between organizations and the various interest groups with whom they interact, whilst, finally, stakeholder analysis is resorted to as a way of establishing the relevant societal interest groups to which businesses might either be considered 'accountable', or alternatively whose views they might wish to 'manipulate' favourably regarding their (i.e. corporate) actions. The underpinning theory, as delineated, is then examined for validity via interviews with executives representing eight prominent UK companies in four business sectors. The model outlined enables the nature of perceived accountability/influence by the company to be linked to perceived/manipulated stakeholder expectations of the company, with the tentative conclusion being reached that support can be found for both organizational legitimacy and political economy of accounting perspectives, although which predominates is impossible to determine. © 2001 Academic Press.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-397
Number of pages40
JournalBritish Accounting Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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