Chinese Consumers’ Perceptionof Corporate Social Responsibility (Csr)

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Journal of Business Ethics (2009) 88:119–132 DOI 10.1007/s10551-008-9825-x

Ó Springer 2008

Chinese Consumers’ Perception of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Bala Ramasamy Mathew Yeung

ABSTRACT. The findings of this article increase our understanding of corporate social responsibility from the consumers’ perspective in a Chinese setting. Based on primary data collected via a self-administered survey in Shanghai and Hong Kong and results of similar studies conducted in Europe and the United States, we provide evidence to show that Chinese consumers are more supportive of CSR. We also show that Carroll’s pyramid of responsibilities can be applied in China. We evaluated the importance placed by Chinese consumers on the four responsibilities of firms – economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic – and find that economic responsibilities are most important while philanthropic responsibilities are of least importance. The nature of these differences is important for firms intending to use corporate social responsibility for strategic purposes. KEY WORDS: corporate social responsibility, China, Hong Kong, Chinese consumers

Introduction CSR has made its mark as an important area in business literature. The increasing number of articles in leading business journals and dedicated journals to the area provide ample evidence to this effect. At the same time, the social responsibility of businesses is also gaining popularity among other stakeholders. For instance, the 2006 Cone Millenial Cause Study found that 61% of the millenials (those born between 1979 and 2001) feel that it is their responsibility to make the world a better place, while 78% believe that companies have a responsibility to join them in their efforts (www.coneinc.com). The popular talent show, American Idol, showcased poverty in Africa in its 2007 season, and called for participation of its viewers (individuals and businesses) to help eradicate it. In a recent survey by McKinsey, 89% of consumers surveyed believed that companies should

balance their obligations to their shareholders with their contribution to the broader common good, while only 48% of the 4063 consumers surveyed in China, France, Germany, the UK, India, Japan and the US feel that companies are making any meaningful contribution to the cause (Bonini et al., 2007a). In the 1980s and 1990s, CSR literature focused on the corporation’s engagement in social responsibilities from a business perspective (Margolis and Walsh, 2001). Since the late 1990s and particularly in this decade, research that focuses on an important stakeholder and driver of CSR – the consumer – has been increasing (Brown and Dacin, 1997; Marin and Ruiz, 2007; Mohr and Webb, 2005; Sen and Bhattacharya, 2001). Although these and other studies highlight the role of CSR in the consumer’s evaluation of a company and their decisions to purchase its products, there is a tendency for the focus to be on American and European consumers. Apart from the cross country survey by McKinsey cited above, we are unaware of any academic study that has considered CSR from an Asian consumers’ perspective, let alone from China. By exploring consumers’ perception of CSR in two Chinese cities, this study attempts to provide some preliminary insights into the attitude of Chinese consumers vis` a-vis CSR. We use Maignan (2001) as the springboard to our study as it considers consumers’ perception of CSR in two European countries and the United States. In this study, we focus on two Chinese cities at different stages of economic development, namely Shanghai and Hong Kong. Based on primary data collected from these cities, as well as that of Maignan (2001) we provide insights into the following questions: (1) To what extent are Chinese consumers willing to support firms that are socially

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Bala Ramasamy and Mathew Yeung
do…Social responsibility goes one step further. It is a firm’s acceptance of a social obligation beyond the requirement...
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