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Elite status talks, but how loudly and why? Exploring elite CSR micro-politics

Robert L. Heath (Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA)
Damion Waymer (North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 25 January 2019

Issue publication date: 23 May 2019




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the proactive role elite organizations play within-network corporate social responsibility (CSR) performance by determining whether organizations can be identified that serve as aspirational CSR role models. The assumption is that elite CSR performance inspires and challenges other in-network actors to raise their standards in order to be legitimate, and resource rewardable.


Three cases are discussed to exemplify elite CSR: historical: recognizing the value of embracing a trend in improved standards of meatpacking, Armour Meatpacking campaigned for sanitary meatpacking and implemented strategic change; global energy: Chevron Corporation conducts “business in a socially and environmentally responsible manner, respecting the law and universal human rights to benefit the communities where we work”; and non-profit: “Elite” universities’ CSR standards attract bright faculty and students and build beneficial relationships with industry, government and peers.


Elite institutions raise CSR standards by using issue trends to guide strategic change that can performatively demonstrate the societal value of proactive leadership that elevates standards and increases the reward value to communities and organizations that is achieved by adopting higher standards.

Research limitations/implications

Through micro-politics that increase CSR social productivity, elite CSR standards earn rewards for exemplary organizations and subsequently raise standards for in-network organizations to, in turn, achieve the license to operate.

Practical implications

Discussions of CSR should consider the influences that establish CSR standards. To that end, this paper offers the explanatory power of a micro-political, societal productivity approach to CSR based on the pragmatic/moral resource dependency paradigm.

Social implications

The paper reasons that higher CSR standards result when NGO stakeholder critics and/or government agencies exert micro-political pressure. In response to such pressure, elite organizations, those that are or can meet those higher CSR standards, proactively demonstrate how higher CSR standards can accrue resources that benefit them and society. Elite CSR performance challenges other in-network actors to raise standards in order to be legitimate, that is resource rewardable.


Because elite organizations understand the reward advantage of higher levels of CSR, they proactively elevate the discuss of standards and advantages for achieving them, and penalties for falling short.



Heath, R.L. and Waymer, D. (2019), "Elite status talks, but how loudly and why? Exploring elite CSR micro-politics", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 232-247.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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