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CSR or social impression management? Tone management in CSR reports

Sourour Hamza (Faculty of Economics and Management, University of Sfax, Sfax, Tunisia)
Anis Jarboui (University of Sfax, ISAAS, Sfax, Tunisia)

Journal of Financial Reporting and Accounting

ISSN: 1985-2517

Article publication date: 12 May 2021




The purpose of this paper is to investigate to what extent corporate social responsibility (CSR) is used as a symbolic strategy of greenwashing. Analyses focus on the relationship between CSR and disclosure tone management practice in sustainable reports derived from social impression management incentives.


This study is based on a sample of French listed firms (SBF 120) over a seven-year period (2010–2016), i.e. 539 firm-year observations.


Multivariate analysis indicates a significant relationship between CSR and disclosure tone management. The obtained results show that firms that are less concerned with tone management in sustainable reporting process consider more socially responsible issues. Findings support the socially substantive initiatives and the transparency perspective of CSR.

Research limitations/implications

The negative association between CSR and tone management highlights the firm’s transparency. However, there could be other discretionary practices which may determine impression management strategies. Thus, future research may consider other discretionary behavior associated with CSR to mislead users.

Practical implications

All actors (government, green-association, investors, etc.) interested in CSR and greenwashing issues have to bring initiatives to reinforce the monitoring and reporting procedures.


This study investigates the association between CSR and disclosure tone management for the French context since the specificity of its regulatory framework of CSR disclosure. Thus, corporate narrative reporting users may be required to consider impression management practices (i.e. tone management) and read between the lines.



Hamza, S. and Jarboui, A. (2021), "CSR or social impression management? Tone management in CSR reports", Journal of Financial Reporting and Accounting, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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