Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting in Controversial Industries
22 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2017
Date Written: January 6, 2017
We examine the sustainability reporting activities of companies in controversial industries, e.g., alcohol, firearms, for-profit prisons, gambling, tobacco, marijuana and payday loans. For each industry we identify its controversial social problem – the “elephant in the room.” We then examine whether the company issued a sustainability report in the last three years and, if so, how the report dealt with the firm’s controversial social issue. Compared to two non-controverisal sectors – grocery stores and department/discount stores – companies in controversial industries publish sustainability or CSR-type reports at a lower rate (28% versus 43%). We also find significant differences in how the two groups of companies allocate space in their CSR reports. We categorize pages in the reports as dedicated to social and community efforts or environmental issues. The non-controversial companies devote significantly more of their reports to environmental issues than do controversial companies. The controversial companies have a higher ratio of their reports dedicated to social and community activities relative to environmental activities. This result is consistent with firms in controversial industries using social and community actions to attain legitimacy by taking actions that offset the social ills inherent in their core business. It also suggests that these companies believe that doing good in one arena substitutes for harm done elsewhere, This notion of offsetting harm with good deeds elsewhere becomes problematic if the people harmed are from vulnerable populations, don’t have the resources to address the harm or are minors.
Keywords: Controversial Industries, CSR Reporting, Legitimacy, Sin Stocks
JEL Classification: M14, Q56
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation