An examination of CSR decoupling in Pakistan : a research journey through tight and loosely coupled environments : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, School of Management, Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
The literature on CSR has been debated among organisational scholars not only for its benefit to society and the environment but also its positive influence on business and organisations. Research suggests that strong government, markets and civil society are also necessary conditions for businesses to behave in a socially responsible way. However, due to its focus on developed economies limited contextual knowledge has emerged, especially that from developing countries. Within this latter context there is a lack of understanding of how businesses use reporting to create an impression of social responsibility while masking their actual performance, suspected to be the result of a weak institutional environment.
By drawing on (neo)-institutional theory this research addresses this theoretical gap, demonstrating that CSR policies and practices are shaped by their embeddedness in the prevailing institutional environment. More specifically, this research explores questions related to CSR reporting, practice, and the decoupling between CSR rhetoric and actual performance in Pakistan.
The research design comprised a multi-methodological approach using data quadrangulation. First, quantitative content analysis of 29 listed companies was conducted, drawing longitudinal data from publicly listed annual reports (2001, 2006, 2011 & 2017 – five-yearly intervals) to understand the extent of CSR reporting in Pakistan. Second, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 respondents comprising of CSR/sustainability managers, national regulators, and members of CSR promoting institutions in the country. Third, the originality of reports was examined using TurnitinTM and TinEyeTM. Finally, a discourse analysis of text and related images in reports was conducted to describe, interpret and explain contextualised meanings of language used.
The results show that CSR, as perceived by many stakeholders actually has limited understanding and currently few benefits in Pakistan. The drivers identified for CSR policies and practices were found to be significantly different from that studied in the developed world. Additionally, unique instances of widespread decoupling are highlighted in the form of the lack of originality in texts, and the use of digitally manipulated images in CSR reports, thereby, suggesting that such behaviour is deliberate. The research makes important theoretical and methodological contributions to the nexus of business and society in a developing country, especially one suffering from a weak institutional environment.