Towards achieving global standards : the role of public relations in processes and outcomes of corporate social responsibility initiatives in Malaysia : a dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Communication at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
The overarching aim of this thesis is to explore the current corporate social responsibility (CSR) performance of Malaysian multinational corporations (MNCs). Specifically, CSR performance is measured against global best- practice standards and the role given to public relations in CSR is investigated. This thesis examines links between CSR and public relations in the context of Malaysian organisations. Research about CSR in Malaysia often focuses on management and accounting perspectives and little attention has been given to connecting public relations theories and concepts with CSR. This study fills that gap by applying public relations theories to help explain CSR practice and standards in Malaysia.
A qualitative mixed-methods approach was employed, within an overall interpretivist framework. An interpretive textual analysis of 45 annual reports and 10 stand-alone sustainability reports from selected Malaysian MNCs was conducted. Eight existing global best-practice guidelines commonly used in developing nations were collated into a single instrument which guided the analysis. Interviews with 11 public relations practitioners from six case-study MNCs with experience of the roles of public relations in CSR in Malaysia provided triangulation of data.
Results suggest CSR reporting by Malaysian MNCs falls short of global standards. Reporting tends to focus most on charitable donations and accountability and less on international certified standards and human rights. The case studies indicate Malaysian public relations practitioners tend to hold technical roles in CSR and lack leadership roles.
The research supports the contingency theory of public relations by suggesting that the current lack of thoroughness in CSR reporting is a consequence of companies accommodating themselves to local laws and requirements. It also suggests a relationship between technical public relations roles and sub-standard reporting. However, the research is complicated by factors such as reputational standing and ownership of companies.
This thesis recommends that future research expands these findings with a quantified evaluation of performance standards and public relations roles on a larger scale. It is also suggested that the best-practice instrument used in this research can provide a single comprehensive guide for CSR managers and future researchers.