Speaking of Corporate Social Responsibility
Tilburg University, CentER
Tilburg University - Department of Finance; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); Tilburg Law and Economics Center (TILEC)
Sunny Li Sun
University of Missouri at Kansas City - Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
March 2, 2014
Harvard Business School Organizational Behavior Unit Working Paper No. 14-082
European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) - Finance Working Paper No. 412/2014
We argue that the language spoken by corporate decision makers influences their firms’ social responsibility and sustainability practices. Linguists suggest that obligatory future-time-reference (FTR) in a language reduces the psychological importance of the future. Prior research has shown that speakers of strong FTR languages (such as English, French, and Spanish) exhibit less future-oriented behavior (Chen, 2013). Yet, research has not established how this mechanism may affect the future-oriented activities of corporations. We theorize that companies with strong-FTR languages as their official/working language would have less of a future orientation and so perform worse in future-oriented activities such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) compared to those in weak-FTR language environments. Examining thousands of global companies across 59 countries from 1999-2011, we find support for our theory, and further that the negative association between FTR and CSR performance is weaker for firms that have greater exposure to diverse global languages as a result of (a) being headquartered in countries with higher degree of globalization, (b) having a higher degree of internationalization, and (c) having a CEO with more international experience. Our results suggest that language use by corporations is a key cultural variable that is a strong predictor of CSR and sustainability.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 48
Keywords: Language, Future-Time-Reference, Categories, Culture, Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability
JEL Classification: G3, Z10, Z11, G28
Date posted: March 5, 2014 ; Last revised: March 12, 2014
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