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The rise and fall of stand-alone social reporting in a multinational subsidiary in Bangladesh: A case study

Ataur Belal (Aston Business School, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
David L Owen (International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, Nottingham University Business School, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 21 September 2015

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the underlying drivers for the development and subsequent discontinuation of stand-alone corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting in a multinational subsidiary in Bangladesh.

Design/methodology/approach

The research approach employed for this purpose is a case study using evidence from a series of in-depth interviews conducted during the period 2002-2010. Interview data are supplemented by examining other sources of information including annual reports, stand-alone social reports and relevant newspaper articles during the study period.

Findings

It appears that the stand-alone CSR reporting process was initiated to give the subsidiary a formal space in which to legitimise its activities in Bangladesh where both tobacco control regulation and a strong anti-tobacco movement were gaining momentum. At the start of the process in 2002 corporate interviewees were very receptive of this initiative and strongly believed that it would not be a one off exercise. However, in the face of subsequent significant national policy shifts concerning tobacco control, irreconcilable stakeholder demands and increasing criticism of the CSR activities of the organisation at home and abroad the process was brought to an abrupt end in 2009.

Research limitations/implications

The paper has a number of implications for policy makers concerning the future prospects for stand-alone social/sustainability reporting as a means of enhancing organisational transparency and accountability. In addition the paper discusses a number of theoretical implications for the development of legitimacy theory.

Originality/value

Using the lens of legitimacy the paper theorises the circumstances leading to the initiation and subsequent cessation of CSR reporting in the organisation concerned. As far as the authors know this is the first study which theorises and provides significant fieldwork-based empirical evidence regarding the discontinuation of stand-alone social reporting by a multinational company operating in a developing country. Thus, it extends previous desk-based attempts at using legitimacy theory to explain a decrease (or discontinuity) in CSR disclosures by de Villiers and van Staden (2006) and Tilling and Tilt (2010).

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Earlier versions of the paper were presented at the International Congress of Social and Environmental Accounting, Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research (CSEAR), University of St Andrews, UK, 1-3 September 2010, a staff seminar at Aston University, 26 May 2011, the Critical Perspectives on Accounting (CPA) Conference, 10-12 July 2011, Florida, USA, the British Academy of Management Conference, 13-15 September 2011, Aston University, UK and the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting (IPA) Conference 11-13 July 2012, Cardiff, UK. Thanks to the participants of these seminar/conferences for their comments. Research assistance to this project was provided by Sardar Sadek Nizami. The authors also acknowledge the written comments made on earlier versions of the paper by Robin Roberts, Chris van Staden and Danture Wickramasinghe. Thanks are also due to the two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions to improve the paper. Finally, the authors would like to thank the interviewees for their time and cooperation.

Citation

Belal, A. and Owen, D.L. (2015), "The rise and fall of stand-alone social reporting in a multinational subsidiary in Bangladesh: A case study", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 28 No. 7, pp. 1160-1192. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-08-2013-1443

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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