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Paper info: The Practice of CSR in B2B Networks


The Practice of CSR in B2B Networks


Adam Raman

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 27th IMP-conference in Glasgow, Scotland in 2011.


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The purpose of this study is to develop a better understanding of the role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in organisations from a relational, interactional, networked B2B-B2C perspective. CSR and business ethics issues are increasing in importance affecting a wider group of stakeholders located within the external and internal business environment of firms. Organisations are under increasing pressure to meet the needs of these stakeholders if they are to maintain their longer term competitive positioning. Therefore CSR and ethics should be considered as a core strategic issue and be appropriately aligned with other strategic activities within the firm.
Ethics and CSR have become the concern of both academic researchers and practitioners alike and usually involve an interdisciplinary approach of study calling upon the natural and social sciences to provide an understanding of the problems as well as solutions to the numerous issues caused by institutions affecting society.
The subject of CSR and business ethics are complex and difficult to define, although both subjects tend to be treated as separate disciplines within the management literature they are intricately linked and will be treated synonymously within this Work – in – Progress Paper. Care is needed to clearly show the linkages but the linked construct of CSR and ethics provides a richer definition in which to explore the practice of CSR / ethics within organisations. It is expected that there should be an increase in the prominence of both CSR and business ethics within the practice of business within organisations, the extent of which would vary according to the peculiarities of individual business contexts. The main question is in what shape or form should these ethical / CSR activities take within these organisations.
The current gaps which exists in CSR / business ethics research within the context of different business sectors and countries is how and where CSR/ethics is currently situated within the practice of specific business sectors as well as the extent and appropriateness to which they are being practiced. The proposed study will focus on evaluating where and how CSR/ethics are being practiced within the context of organisations operating in the business-to-business (B2B) sector.
The B2B environment consists of organisations supplying products and services to other organisations for their own final consumption or to provide these offerings as intermediary products for inclusion in their own products or services that will then be distributed either to final consumers or other organisations in the supply chain. There are several factors which influence the behaviour of buyers in B2B markets and include amongst other things: overall value as a function of cost in terms of the price paid relative to gaining other benefits contained within a deal, relationships and loyalty as well as ethics and CSR.
Unfortunately, evident by a dearth of available literature, very little research has been undertaken to evaluate how a B2B supplier‘s behaviour as a good corporate citizen affects the behaviour of its B2B buyers in selecting and maintaining them as supply partners. To date, the primary focus of CSR / ethics has been on its impact on the final consumers or end stakeholders therefore emphasising a bias towards a Business to Consumer (B2C) orientation of CSR/ethics but a partial review of both the B2B and CSR literature has demonstrated the complexity of the subject areas and the inseparability of B2B/B2C domain in studying CSR.
B2B marketing has traditionally been treated differently from B2C marketing as well as being overshadowed by it. The former became more prominent after the introduction of dedicated research groups and publications from the 1970s onwards. From the 1980s B2B research highlighted major differences with conventional marketing thought that could not deal with the interdisciplinary nature of a collection of outsourced suppliers interactively and relationally networked to purchasers and other stakeholders. The discrepancies between business markets and current marketing theory were also noted around the same time in other marketing sub-disciplines such as services and relationship marketing. More recently there is evidence of convergence between the contemporary business and services marketing literature highlighting some commonality in thinking between the two fields as well as B2C marketing.
The treatment of CSR as stabilising interactional, relational networks of outsourced B2B suppliers linked to B2C organizations and other stakeholders is seen as a progressive way of better understanding the role of CSR. It also emphasises the requirement for a wider interdisciplinary role for marketing in today‘s modern organization in effectively managing CSR by satisfying not only customers but by developing loyalty and trust through CSR to stabilise relational social networks of stakeholders. An attempt will be made to address both of these issues by combining the network approach of B2B marketing with contemporary perspectives on CSR.
The purpose of this study is to research the extent to which CSR and business ethics play a role within the business decisions of executives operating within B2B markets as well as how and where do they play a part.
The intended contribution to the B2B literature is to provide an insight into how the concept of CSR demonstrates the weaknesses in current marketing theory and increases the need for applying newer interaction and relational theories.
Keywords: CSR, Interaction, Relationships, Networks, B2B