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Business Ethics: A European Review

Volume 22 Number 4 October 2013

Business in society or
business and society:
the construction of
businesssociety relations in
responsibility reports from a
critical discursive perspective
Marjo E. Siltaoja and Tiina J. Onkila
Jyvskyl University School of Business and Economics, Jyvskyl, Finland

In this article, we analyse the discursive construction of businesssociety relations in Finnish businesses social
and environmental responsibility reports. Drawing on critical discourse analysis, we examine how these
discursive constructions maintain and reproduce various interests and societal conditions as a precondition of
corporate social responsibility (CSR). Our study contributes to the recent discussion on discursive struggles
in businesssociety relations and the role various interests play in this struggle. We find that not only are
power asymmetries between actors veiled through the universalization of interests, but reporting can also be
seen as a communicative action that provides a right to define the role of societal actors for the achievement
of CSR. We suggest that the discursive struggle over whose interests dominate, and how they dominate,
shapes the role of social and environmental reporting as a social practice.

Introduction responsibilities has further been conceptualized as


corporate social responsibility (CSR), which has
How can we increase social welfare, enjoy the ben- been proposed as a theory of the corporation (e.g.
efits of technical and economic development, and Buchholz 1991, Carroll 1993). However, CSR origi-
at the same time preserve and care for the fragile nates in and is related to several theoretical fields,
natural environment? These questions have very all of which have a slightly different view of what
recently been at the heart of the discussion of the the phenomenon is about and what is or should
relationship between business and society. The be the focus of analysis in CSR-oriented studies (for
businesssociety relationship has been examined and reviews, see e.g. Gray et al. 1995, Garriga & Mel
theorized upon for decades by scholars aiming to 2004, Banerjee 2007, Secchi 2007, Maon et al. 2010).
understand and answer a question: what is the role of CSR and its conceptualization are today often
a firm and what are the associated responsibilities? based on how the institutional environment and
The role of businesses and their impact on and inter- government policies affect CSR and thus reflect
est in environmental, social and economic issues, and businesssociety relations (see e.g. Maignan &

2013 The Authors doi: 10.1111/beer.12028


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Business Ethics: A European Review
Volume 22 Number 4 October 2013

Ralston 2002, Doh & Guay 2006, Albareda et al. cursive struggles in businesssociety relations. We
2007, Matten & Moon 2008, Steurer et al. 2012). In apply a CDA approach using the ideas of Fairclough
order to understand how CSR reflects cultural con- (1992, 2001, 2003) concerning discourse as a social
ditions and arrangements, many empirical studies practice.
have focused on corporate social and environmental For our empirical data, we selected 24 Finnish
reporting (SER) and the contents of the reports and businesses social or environmental reports pub-
businesses definitions of their responsibility (e.g. lished in either 2005 or 2007. What makes the socio-
Adams et al. 1998, Hartman et al. 2007). Tradition- cultural context interesting is that Nordic countries
ally, reporting has been viewed as a communication have traditionally been taken as an example of coun-
channel through which corporations disseminate tries that not only rank well in global competitive-
information about relevant social and environmental ness rankings but are greatly concerned about the
issues, which may also be understood as a way of natural environment (Bernes 1993). According to
seeking legitimacy (see Gray et al. 1995, Deegan Grennes (2003: 13), the Scandinavian model pro-
2002). However, according to some scholars, corpo- motes long-term ties between owners, managers,
rate SER not only reflects cultural conditions, but workers, and society, where the role of the company
actively promotes their (re)construction. Critically includes promotion of goals of society at large. We
oriented researchers in particular have paid attention view the Scandinavian model as having traditionally
to the language used in SER and how it can reflect emphasized a business in society view according to
societal conditions, struggles and interests (see e.g. which societies need to impose regulation on busi-
Livesey 2001, 2002, Laine 2009, Spence 2009). Pre- nesses (Wood 1991). For example, the competitive
vious literature has acknowledged the role of SER as conditions in Finland used to be highly regulated
a channel available to businesses to address social (Tainio 2006).
and global challenges, such as sustainable develop- The current research contributes to the contempo-
ment (Tregidga & Milne 2006, Tregidga et al. 2008). rary discussion on discursive struggles in business
The response to these challenges further depends on society relations and the role various interests play in
how the phenomenon is constituted. that struggle (see Levy & Egan 2003, Banerjee 2007,
Our aim in this study is to offer a better under- Spence 2007, Tregidga et al. 2008). Through the use
standing of the discursive strategies that construct of the two main discursive strategies in the data,
businesssociety relations in the SER of Finnish centralizing and decentralizing strategies, businesses
businesses. More specifically, we examine how these are conceptualized either as a part of society (busi-
discursive constructions maintain and reproduce ness in society) or as two separate environments
various interests and societal conditions as a precur- (business and society). However, these constructions
sor of CSR. In order to accomplish our task, we first are not mutually exclusive. We further show how the
draw on the relational perspective in CSR theories discursive strategies play an important role in deter-
(Secchi 2007). Second, we adopt a critical perspective mining whose interests constitute CSR. Not only is
to understand the ways in which businesses are also reporting practice a societal legitimacy quest in
political actors (Mitchell 1989; see also Matten & which power asymmetries are veiled by universaliz-
Crane 2005, Palazzo & Scherer 2006, Scherer & ing interests using cooperative and balancing lan-
Palazzo 2007, Matten & Moon 2008), whose own guage, but it can also be seen as a communicative
interests affect their definition of CSR and the rela- action that provides a right to define the role of other
tionship between business and society. Our research societal actors for the achievement of CSR. We
aim demands that we pay attention to how reporting therefore suggest that SER is a social practice shaped
language is involved in shaping the roles and respon- by discursive struggle over whose interests dominate
sibilities of businesses because businesses can take and how they dominate.
action to achieve power. We argue for the impor- The article proceeds as follows: in the next section,
tance of discursive approaches and critical discourse we will discuss the literature of CSR, focusing par-
analysis (CDA) in particular in order to understand ticularly on the importance of a critical approach to
how certain discursive expressions associate with dis- the businesssociety relationship. We follow our

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Volume 22 Number 4 October 2013

critical discursive approach with a description of the thought sees business as part of a wider mechanism,
data and analysis. The study concludes with a dis- the economic system, and businesses self-interest as
cussion of its contribution and limitations. the economic systems driving force. The managerial
stream approaches responsibility from inside the firm
(internal perspective) and is a kind of counter-
Theoretical framework proposal to the first stream. Relational approaches
consider the relationships between the firm and
Theoretical approaches to CSR society and direct attention to businesses interacting
The growth in CSR literature seems to have encour- with the economic system (Secchi 2007). One of the
aged several researchers to pay attention to the most critical ideas in this third approach is the sub-
variety of theories used to describe and explain the group of business/society theories. Studies placed in
phenomenon. One of the most widely cited has been this field often try to analyse society and the role
developed by Garriga and Mel (2004) who divide organizations play in it. In these approaches, the
CSR-related theories into four different groups. The constitution of CSR can be associated with power
first group is called instrumental theories that empha- relations: the interests that define CSR. We elaborate
size CSR merely as a means to the end of profits. on this view next.
CSR as understood in this way has been quite widely
criticized on the grounds that it would promote just
Business in society
business benefits rather than social well-being
(Banerjee 2007, Gond et al. 2009). The second group This term has been used to describe the responsibility
is called political theories in which the social power of of business to society. The terminology has been
the corporation is emphasized. There has been drawn from functionalism and views of conflict.
increased interest in these theories recently because These emphasize the regulation that societies need to
of the research on the politicization of corporations impose on businesses. According to Wood (1991),
(Matten & Crane 2005, Scherer & Palazzo 2007). The functionalists view business as a subsidiary of
third group, called integrative theories, includes theo- society, created to serve economic functions in an
ries that argue that business depends on society for institutional division of labour that, left to operate
its continuity and growth and even for the existence unimpeded, would result in societal stability and
of business itself. Integrative theories include well-being. Functionalism favours regulation, guar-
approaches that are quite widely used to illustrate anteeing competitive conditions rather than regula-
the management of CSR and related phenomena. tion designed to achieve specific social objectives.
The fourth group, ethical theories, emphasizes the The traditional idea of business legitimacy is that
ethical values embedded in the businesssociety rela- business exists and acts by permission of society and
tionship. CSR in this view is primarily a question of societys expectations, as defined through public
ethics and the ethical management of business. policy processes, emphasizes this view (Wood 1991).
Secchi (2007) criticizes Garriga and Meles Indeed, in many institutional environments, particu-
approach as unclear, saying that there is no clear larly in Scandinavia, there has not been a strong
reason why, for example, a political theory might not confrontation between the interests in business
also be an instrumental one. In addition, the groups society relations (see Nsi 1995, Matten & Moon
contain only theories that directly address social 2008). Businesses and other organizations have been
responsibility, therefore limiting the depth of analy- understood to interact with society because they are
sis. By providing an alternative view, Secchi (2007) part of it and are in partnership with other focal
proposes that CSR should be examined in terms of actors emphasizing the view we call business in
how certain theories and approaches define relations society. We suggest the business in society approach
between corporations and society and, more specifi- can be linked to the idea of implicit CSR (Matten &
cally, where responsibility is allocated. This proposi- Moon 2008), which is a particularly European and
tion is concretized in utilitarian, managerial and Scandinavian phenomenon: CSR describes all
relational theories of CSR. The utilitarian stream of formal and informal institutions of a society which

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Volume 22 Number 4 October 2013

assign and define the extent of corporate responsibil- et al. 2009). The choice of language therefore con-
ity for the interests of an entire society (Matten & tributes to how we come to understand firms roles in
Moon 2008). More specifically, in the implicit delivering social good or solving social problems. We
system, many of the responsibilities are legal require- now move on to examine the contributions of critical
ments. This precondition contradicts the US-driven approaches to CSR during the past decade and to
CSR literature from where the majority of the CSR specifying our critical aim.
literature has originated. The distinctive elements of
this kind of European CSR are the inclusion of
regulated industrial relations, labour law and corpo- Contemporary critically oriented approaches
rate governance, for example (Preuss et al. 2009). to CSR
Theoretically and methodologically speaking, some
earlier critically oriented studies in the field of CSR
Business and society
have drawn on, for example, post-colonial perspec-
Wood (1991) describes the term business and tives (Banerjee 2006, Khan et al. 2010) and
society as a relatively new phrase in which the figu- Habermasian deliberative democracy (Scherer &
rative chain of command is not clear. According to Palazzo 2007). Scholars have also favoured the CDA
this view, Wood (1991) suggests that businesses are and related approaches. CDA is as much a theory as
seen as a collection of independent actors, each with it is a method, as it includes several different, over-
certain interests in abiding by the expectations of lapping and also distinct approaches (Wodak 2001).
society and their stakeholders. Regulation can be In CSR studies, CDA is often, but not always,
seen either as illegitimate interference in corporate reduced to the use of its specific approaches, for
autonomy or as a strategic tool for obtaining corpo- example, the Foucauldian approach (e.g. Livesey
rate objectives, or both, depending on the context. In 2001, 2002, Banerjee 2003, 2007), the Laclanian
addition to this, we suggest that the business and approach (Spence 2007) or the Faircloughian
society view is very much present in explicit CSR approach (Burchell & Cook 2006, Joutsenvirta &
(Matten & Moon 2008). It is a reflection of the Vaara 2009).
United States having been more reliant on market- Livesey (2001, 2002) made important contributions
based forms of ownership, and is more embedded in in the critical field of environmental and social report-
institutions and traditions that consist of voluntary ing, emphasizing the power asymmetries in CSR and
corporate policies, programmes and strategies showing how larger socio-political struggles are con-
(Matten & Moon 2008). nected to CSR reporting. Texts can both influence
Wood (1991) criticizes that neither the old term and reflect ongoing socio-political struggles over the
business in society nor the newer term business and meaning of sustainable development (Livesey &
society properly expresses modern business-society Kearins 2002) and other topics relevant in business
relationships (Wood 1991: 66) and argues for cor- society relations. For example, Joutsenvirta and
porate social performance as a more comprehensive Vaara (2009) show how CSR is related to the struggle
and descriptive term, for it focuses on the outcomes over the legitimacy of a controversial restructuring
of performance. However, we see that when these decision, which in turn has implications for business
views about businesssociety relations are combined society relations in the era of globalization. Tregidga
into recent CSR literature (Matten & Moon 2008), & Milne (2006) analysed the development and discur-
they help to understand the differences between insti- sive change of sustainability discourse from 1993 to
tutional environments. A starting point in this 2003 in the language practices in one company. Their
research is that the language used in SERs provides a analysis showed how the discursive change in the
sense of the businesssociety relationship, which can businessenvironment relationship took place from
be studied by examining conditions constructed as sustainability management as compliance with regu-
prerequisites for CSR. More importantly, as Matten lation towards sustainable development as a business
& Moon (2008) have suggested, we have seen the case. In this discursive change, the position of the
spread of explicit CSR in Europe (see also Preuss business was discursively extended from partnership

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into leadership (2006).1 Although Tregidga and Milne possible neglect of certain topics. Yet a study that is
drew on interpretative discourse analysis, their work positioned as being critical should include a specific
shows the change in language patterns used in critical aim. When positioning ourselves in the field
SER and how a CSR/sustainability discourse can of relational approaches to CSR from a critical
be employed to legitimize a right to speak with an perspective, we build on the argument that the
authoritative voice (see also Driscoll 2006, Tregidga businesssociety relationship is laden with various
et al. 2008). According to Tregidga et al. (2008), asymmetries of power, those asymmetries being
social/environmental reporting can be seen as a policy present in various interests that contribute to defin-
in which companies maintain their right to speak ing the relationship. Because power asymmetry
about what constitutes sustainable development. is associated with discursive activity, we shall now
Some critical researchers see businesses as politi- move on to describe our critical discursive
cal actors with their own specific interests who gain approach.
more from CSR than society does and are therefore
inappropriate agents of social change (Banerjee
2007, Hanlon 2008, Kuhn & Deetz 2008). For
example, Spence (2007) explored the ideological Critical discursive approach
implications of the motivations for SER and sug-
gests that SER includes a hegemonic discourse that CDA explores the tensions between language as
uses the metaphor of balance and aims to present socially shaped and language as socially shaping; it
the interests of business as akin to the well-being of sees language as a form of social practice. Social life
society and the natural environment. Accordingly, is a network of diverse social practices, including for
hegemonic discourse aims to synthesize the interests example, economic, political, cultural and familial
of several groups that are basically constructed on practices. These social practices are more or less
the continuity and interests of businesses. Levy & stable forms of social activity, which most commonly
Kaplan (2008) conclude that from a Gramscian involve discourse (Fairclough 2003). Thus, discur-
perspective, it is not surprising that CSR, as a hege- sive practice is a structure and also structures actions
monic accommodation, largely reflects the domi- (Weiss & Wodak 2003: 10). According to this view,
nant cultural, economic and political role of discourse is socially conditioned and constituted in a
business in society, and the permeation of the dis- reciprocal sense. It is constitutive in the sense that it
course of competitiveness and the free market into helps to maintain and reproduce the status quo and
state and social structures. Spence (2009) has also may also contribute to its transformation; human
concluded that reporting practices can run counter agency produces structures, which simultaneously
to accountability and democracy. As critically ori- serve as the conditions for reproducing human
ented management studies have pointed out, the agency in a continuing process (Weiss & Wodak
businesssociety relationship is very much laden 2003).
with issues of power and with struggles between The tensions inherent in language use are often
various groups with competing interests in what presented in terms of a discursive struggle. Drawing
CSR is about (Livesey 2001). on Fairclough (2003), we view organizations and
Although critical studies are often interested in their environments as sites of power and struggle
challenging the status quo and have analysed differ- that are reflected and constructed through the use of
ent forms of domination and discrimination, critical language. Organizations are sites of struggle in terms
approaches cannot be limited only to those, nor of their conflicts and interests as well as in terms of
can it be claimed that they share similar specific the blurring of the boundaries of the organization.
and unified presuppositions (see e.g. Kincheloe & According to Bourdieu (2000), political (and there-
McLaren 2002). One must also make a distinction fore discursive) struggle is a struggle to impose a
between criticism and critical. For example, previ- legitimate vision of a social world and therefore this
ous research is often the object of criticism because legitimate vision strives for the speakers own well-
of the way it has been performed or because of its being (Blackledge 2005: 181). The discursive struggle

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not only constitutes but is also socially conditioned use of vocabularies and other textual tactics
by various groups of interests. (Fairclough 2001, 2003).
Two types of principles are identified in order to We particularly want to analyse the discursive
approach forms of power: the ideology critique and strategies that emerge in CSR reports. By discursive
communicative action (see Alvesson & Deetz 2000). strategies, we mean those discursive and textual pat-
The theory of hegemony presents a form of ideol- terns and practices used to construct a sense of busi-
ogy critique. Hegemony is power to present things ness and society relations. We see SER as a recently
in a certain way within a network of multiple other introduced yet legitimized social practice. These
choices (Hall 1999). Brown (2004: 96, drawing on social and environmental reports include certain
Clegg 1989) notes about hegemony that it is a form discursive and textual practices through which
of cleverly masked, taken-for-granted domination, they contribute to the creation of our social reality.
most often articulated as what is common sense In reporting language, some representations of
or natural, and which thus involves the success- businesssociety relations are likely to become
ful mobilization and reproduction of the active dominant but may also incorporate a struggle
consent of those subject to it. For example, dis- over how the relationships are understood to be
cursive frameworks that actively constitute percep- conducted.
tions of mutual interest in communicative actions
can maintain business hegemony (Levy & Egan
2003: 653). Description of the empirical data and the
We apply the approach of CDA developed by process of analysis
Fairclough that focuses on textual, discursive and Finland is a European Union country with a popu-
social practices.2 Social practice is an articulation of lation of approximately 5.3 million. Transparency
diverse social elements within a relatively stable con- International research (e.g. TI GCR 2009) has pre-
figuration, like SER, that always includes discourse. sented Finland as one of the least corrupt countries
According to Fairclough (2001), every social practice in the world, and Finlands global competitiveness
includes, but is not limited to, the elements of activi- has been praised in global comparisons. Further-
ties, subjects and their social relations, instrument, more, it has not been thought necessary in Finland
objects, values and discourse. These elements are dif- to debate extensively whether businesses should
ferent but not totally separate. Fairclough (2001) address social or environmental responsibilities
further explains the role of discourse in social prac- (Kourula 2010). The Scandinavian approach has
tice: discourse figures as a part of the social activity emphasized the stakeholder view: the acknowledge-
within a practice. For example, a part of doing some ment of groups related to the existence and survival
job or activity is using language in a particular way. of the firm (Nsi 1995). However, the idea of busi-
Discourse is also used to make representations and ness responsibilities is in constant flux because of a
the way representations are made also positions variety of interests and appreciations that can be in
actors within the social practice. Thus, subjects may conflict (Joutsenvirta 2009). Environmental report-
use whichever order of discourse they can more ing gained a foothold in 1990, and the social dimen-
easily position themselves into and have access to the sion was established a decade later. In the 2007 State
discourse. That choice is being affected by cultural of Responsible Competitiveness evaluation by
and social order through hegemony. More impor- AccountAbility (Zadek & MacGillivray 2007),
tantly, social practices do not rely on one type of Finland was placed third globally. Indeed, it is often
discourse, but various discourses are networked suggested that Finnish companies have been rela-
together through the order of discourse (Fairclough tively progressive in CSR, and they generally per-
2001, 2003). That is to say that some ways of making ceive it as a potential competitive advantage
meaning and representing things are more dominant (Kourula 2010). In particular, Finnish companies
than others. Hegemony is therefore power over the have been represented as stakeholder-oriented busi-
order of discourse. Discourse and discursive practice nesses and proactive CSR agents (Juholin 2004).
is constructed through textual choices, such as the CSR has traditionally been largely implicit in

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Finland (see Matten & Moon 2008), which means shipping, food, energy, machinery, metal, waste
that the state is assumed to be responsible for social management, retail, packaging, forestry, communi-
issues, and there has not been the strong philan- cations, information technology, real estate services,
thropic tradition evident in many other countries. transportation and construction.
However, a more explicit form of CSR has started to We first familiarized ourselves with the reports and
emerge (Kourula 2010). focused specifically on those parts of the reports in
Public ranking lists can also naturally contribute which textual descriptions and definitions of respon-
to the creation of the image of a nation with high sibility were documented. This phase eventually led
competence in matters of CSR, which further us to pick out 156 descriptive passages. We applied
emphasizes the importance of examining how a Faircloughs (1992, 2003) framework and concen-
certain sense of the terms and conditions of CSR in trated on the relationship between textual, discursive
practice is constructed in the social and environmen- and social practice. In terms of textual practices, we
tal reports of Finnish businesses. We selected the paid specific attention to the vocabulary used: how a
responsibility reports [or sustainable development, position for the business in relation to other actors
environmental or Eco-Management and Audit was constructed and what vocabulary signalled this
Scheme (EMAS) reports] of 24 Finnish businesses position.
published in either 2005 or 2007. We based our We then focused on the construction of discursive
selection on three criteria: the results of a national strategies; in other words, how the textual choices
CSR/environmental reporting competition, the list signified the relationship and interests between the
of Finnish corporations in the Dow Jones business and society. We noticed how some texts
Sustainability Index and the list of EMAS-registered used collaborative and participative expressions in
organizations in Finland (regulation number 761/ relation to other societal actors. However, the idea of
2001). We are not suggesting that we have in this way business being in a pivotal position in relation to
developed objective criteria with which to define other actors dominated other texts. We distinguished
firms that are actively participating in SER but two main discursive strategies; centralizing and
rather that these three criteria provided us with a decentralizing strategies based on their mobilization
framework for finding interesting data. We went of CSR discourse. Centralizing strategies emphasize
through the national reporting competition starting instrumental means and decentralizing strategies,
from the beginning of the 21st century and selected integrative means. Society was thus constructed as
those corporations that had won awards. We also having either integrated interests with the business
chose all the corporations listed in the Dow Jones (business in society) or was seen as instrumental
Sustainability Index and the corporations whose (business and society) in delivering business interests.
sites were EMAS-registered at the time. To find We analysed 156 passages and centralizing strategies
EMAS-registered corporations in Finland, we went emerged in 63 of them and conversely, 93 revealed
through the list of EMAS-registered sites in Finland. decentralizing strategies. We then positioned these
We disregarded the subsidiaries of larger corpora- discursive strategies into earlier literature and
tions that were already on the list and the one cor- through the order of interests in the CSR discourse,
poration that was part of an international group. considered their significance for SER as a social
The first part of the data was collected in 2005, practice. However, this identification and analysis
when the latest published report was selected. After a were by no means a straightforward process. For
preliminary analysis, the selection criteria were example, in order to comprehend how the discursive
expanded in 2007, when EMAS registration was strategies participate to position business/society and
added to the existing criteria. As EMAS reports are to show how they link into broader literature, our
published only every 3 years, the reports that we analysis and writing process entailed constant
analysed included information from the years 2004 circling and iteration (Wodak 2001) going back
2006. On the basis of our selection criteria, we chose and forth between the data and the theoretical
a group of 24 corporations (Table 1). These cor- framework. The construction of a more coherent
porations operate in 14 different business sectors: narrative and reader-friendly version further led us

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...................................................................................................................................................................
Table 1: CSR/responsibility reports
Corporation Year International/domestic Business sector EMAS registration
Y1 Wrtsil 2005 International Shipping
Y2 Raisio 2005 International Food
Y3 Ekokem 2005 Domestic Waste management
Y4 Fortum 2005 International Energy
Y5 Rautaruukki 2005 International Metal
Y6 Metso 2005 International Machinery
Y7 Saarioinen 2005 International Food
Y8 Valio 2005 International Food
Y9 Kesko 2005 International Retail
Y10 Huhtamki 2005 International Packaging
Y11 UPM-Kymmene 2005 International Forestry EMAS-registered
Y12 Stora Enso 2005 International Forestry EMAS-registered
Y13 Nokia 2005 International Communications
Y14 M-Real 2005 International Forestry EMAS-registered
Y15 Tietoenator 2005 International Information technology
Y16 Senaatti-kiinteistt 2005 Domestic Real estate services
Y17 Valtion rautatiet 2005 Domestic Transportation
Y18 Vantaan energia 2005 Domestic Energy
Y19 Teollisuuden voima 2007 Domestic Energy EMAS-registered
Y20 Outokumpu 2007 International Metal EMAS-registered
Y21 Tikkurila 2007 International Construction EMAS-registered
Y22 Mustankorkea Oy 2007 Domestic Waste management EMAS-registered
Y23 Loimi-Hmeen jtehuolto 2007 Domestic Waste management EMAS-registered
Y24 Sunila 2007 International Forestry EMAS-registered
EMAS, Eco-Management and Audit Scheme.
...................................................................................................................................................................

to eliminate some analytical elements at the end of use of subject positions that imply authority (such
the process. as a leader role), centralizing strategies strengthen
businesses right to define responsibility and, more
importantly, the limits of that responsibility. We
Discursive strategies present the analysis by first discussing the textual
practices that construct this strategy, followed by the
In this section, we will present the discursive moves analysis of the importance of discursive strategies.
in the two strategies centralizing and decentralizing Finally, we analyse the significance of centralizing
ones and show their significance and implications strategies in constructing specific interests and soci-
for businesssociety relations. etal conditions as a basis for CSR.
On the textual level, we focused on how textual
choices used in reports discursively mark and signify
Centralizing strategies the position of the businesses in relation to society.
Centralizing strategies reflect the businesssociety The textual structure of centralizing strategies draws
relation as one between business and society. The on terminology such as market leader, forerunner
discursively produced relationship emphasizes busi- and know-how. Tregidga & Milne (2006) also
nesses as independent actors with certain interests in noticed how the construction of a leadership role
abiding by the expectations of society and stakehold- affects how an organization positions itself in rela-
ers (see Wood 1991). More specifically, through the tion to its stakeholders: it becomes a knowledgeable

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provider of information. A well-recognized argu- emphasize goals businesses set for themselves instead
ment in corporate responsibility literature is that of those set to meet the expectations of others. A
responsibility aims to address and answer environ- position is thus constructed with the right to define
mental and social problems (Margolis & Walsh the direction of societal development. This kind of
2003). Know-how therefore implies the possession of language use emphasizes a right to define and deter-
knowledge of issues that can be understood as goals mine businesssociety relations and what is under-
of CSR. Although know-how was evident in many of stood as responsible business. The use of the terms
the quotations, it was rarely made explicit precisely review and monitors draws attention to the power
what know-how the business claimed to possess. The of business to control its own actions and thus,
importance of this vocabulary is in how it signifies a rejects the alternative the need for external and
certain position of businesses in the businesssociety objective control or auditing.
relationship. For example, the construction of a
forerunner image, particularly in environmental 4. We endeavor to fulfil set targets for environment,
issues, can strengthen the image of the business quality and occupational safety in our planning
whose actions go beyond mere compliance. and execution of process services, whose fulfil-
ment we regularly review. (Y23, translated)
1. Our strategy is to gain a competitive advantage by 5. We wish to continuously improve our environ-
providing professional management of property- mental management, promote development
related environmental issues and environmental and assess our progress. Wherever possible
costs of the properties that exceed the clients we do more than the law requires of us. (Y5,
expectations during the whole life-cycle of the real translated)
estate. In environmental issues we are a forerun- 6. TVO takes responsibility for the environment by
ner with solutions based on specialized know- minimizing the damage that might be caused by
how. (Y16, translated) its activities and by taking care of the waste it
2. Huhtamki is a leading, worldwide package pro- causes; it monitors the state of the environment
ducer, whose products and services fulfil high and undertakes reconstructive action as soon as it
quality standards. The corporation acknowledges becomes necessary. (Y19, translated)
the responsibility that comes with its position in
promoting sustainable development and has In centralizing strategies, the role of businesses is
already for some time incorporated into the prin- portrayed as akin to actors who can also steer the
ciples of central management, objectives related behaviour of others. The self-constructed expertise
to quality, hygiene, safety, health and environ- in acknowledging the need to address responsibility
ment. (Y10, translated) through investments and control is used to legiti-
3. We are continuously developing our activities in mize autonomy over matters: the organizations
order to better protect the environment and have knowledge capital to address problematic
improve safety by applying the know-how we can and challenging issues. For example, in excerpt no.
access through our international contacts and 8, the language practices used describe the business
partners. (Y2, translated) as taking advantage of other actors in order to
develop its actions. It is further described how the
At the discursive level, we show the significance of implementing CSR policy requires other actors and
centralization as a discursive strategy that mobilizes stakeholders to participate. Although this might
CSR discourse in an instrumental sense. In this case, seem obvious, it is rarely acknowledged that
it means how this strategy reflects the business and meeting CSR obligations requires the action and
society view. The businesses are constructed to be participation of numerous other actors in addition
capable of regulating themselves beyond the to the action of the business itself. Centralizing
demands of legal compliance by producing benefits strategies veil the role of stakeholders as a resource
for the society and minimizing (the possible) harm necessary for business to meet its responsibilities.
they cause. Furthermore, the discursive elements However, when stakeholders are defined as a

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resource required for a business to perform its goals rather than being actors subject to the expec-
responsibilities, it raises an important question of tations of society. The strategies construct business
how the interests and expectations of groups con- society relations more from the business and society
structed as a resource are to be achieved. viewpoint, emphasizing their interactive yet separate
natures.
7. The goal of Outokumpu is that its business part-
ners, subcontractors and suppliers become famil-
iar with its corporate responsibility principles, Decentralizing strategies
and that they follow similar standards. (Y21, Decentralizing strategies are constructed more on
original) the basis of the business in society relationship,
8. We wish to influence societal development by meaning that the corporation is a part of society
offering our clients augmentative solutions that and that stakeholders have legitimate interests in
are environmentally friendly and promote well- its actions. The vocabulary used here draws from
being. Through our own actions we also seek to openness, interaction and cooperation, and in
guide our partners and clients towards making decentralizing strategies, businesssociety coopera-
responsible solutions. (Y16, translated) tion emerges in the reciprocal sense. In addition,
the strategy applies integrated means in mobilizing
The instrumental view constructs a position for CSR discourse and uses the metaphor of balance
businesses that the business and society view (Spence 2007). We first discuss the textual practices
emphasizes. In so doing, it contributes to the followed by the discursive construction of the strat-
order of interests in CSR discourse: the role and egy and finally, analyse the significance of decentral-
interests of business over stakeholders and societal izing strategies for interests in businesssociety
expectations become naturalized, an uncontested relations.
phenomenon. Responsibilities are prioritized rather One argument behind demands for business
than balanced: economic activity and growth responsibility is often the need to increase the open-
enable the achievement of social and environmental ness and transparency of firms. This is sometimes
aims. referred to as a spur for the writing of responsibility
reports, although reporting does not always increase
9. Saarioinens business is guided by a controlled transparency (Quaak et al. 2007). The vocabulary in
growth strategy. The even development of this strategy draws on openness and interaction,
production, sales and outcome is required for implying a business that is a part of a wider network
controlled growth. On the basis of a stable of relations. The interaction is strengthened by pro-
economy we create the prerequisites for envi- viding a context for interaction that is associated
ronmental work and its development. (Y7, more with cooperative negotiation than guidance.
translated) Interestingly, in centralizing strategies, the leader-
10. Wrtsils target is to improve its financial ship position was already taken (we are forerun-
performance and create added value for its ners) whereas in this strategy, the forerunner
stakeholders and society. Strong financial position is portrayed as something the organization
performance forms a basis for corporate envi- would aspire to achieve through cooperative rela-
ronmental and social responsibility. (Y1, tionships. More specifically, this strategy emphasizes
original) stakeholder consultation facilitated by the interac-
tion and is more about partnership (see also
To conclude, centralizing strategies convey a sense Tregidga & Milne 2006).
of expertise for businesses in businesssociety rela-
tions as actors who are able to define what consti- 11. We want to act in open and equal interaction
tutes responsibility. These strategies involve with all the people and organizations around us
constructing a position for businesses in which they by discussing, by taking a stance and listening.
would legitimately promote their own interests and (Y5, translated)

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12. Fortums values dictate that our operations aim clients, owners, authorities and other stakehold-
to balance economic, environmental and social ers. (Y18, translated)
aspects by having a positive effect on the com-
munities in which we operate. Our long-term Equality between, and balance of, various priori-
goal is to be the leading sustainable development ties is also a key theme in CSR and SER discussions
energy corporation in the Nordic countries. We (Elkington 1997, Spence 2007). This was not,
want to be forerunners and to build the future of however, something that would have marked the
sustainable energy in an open and active inter- strategy in a significant way. The idea of balance and
action with our clients and other stakeholders. equality is, however, extended to the treatment of
(Y4, translated) various stakeholder groups.

CSR literature often discusses the contribution of 16. In all of our operations, we acknowledge our
business to society in one way or another; the idea of customers needs, expectations and principles
contribution is a premise in any discussion of corpo- of sustainable development, good economic
rate responsibility (Banerjee 2008). Yet the nature of results, continuous improvement of environ-
the contractual circumstances that govern the condi- mental issues and our social responsibility.
tions of this contribution is sometimes ignored. Use These elements support each other. (Y17,
of this discursive strategy emphasizes an interactive translated)
relationship with other societal stakeholders and 17. The principles of sustainable development guide
acknowledges the demands of those stakeholders the the continuous improvement of our actions and
business should contribute to. Furthermore, the use the development of issues related to the environ-
of the strategy acknowledges the impact stakehold- ment and society. In order to accomplish this
ers can have on the achievement of goals. However, task, we consider it extremely important that an
examples in which the corporation is explicitly rep- open dialogue and interaction with stakeholders
resented as subordinate to societal expectations were as well as with authorities and NGOs takes
rare in our data. Although there are more decentral- place. (Y12, translated)
izing strategies identified than centralizing ones, very
few feature direct expressions indicating subordina- Many of the theoretical approaches used to
tion to societal demands. describe CSR feature the explicit claim that CSR
means answering societal demands, and this is par-
13. Metso anticipates its clients and societys expec- ticularly common in legitimacy theory approaches
tations regarding environmental protection. (see Deegan 2002). The societal legitimation argu-
Processes and best practice is developed with ment (Coupland 2005) describes the needs of society
clients and partners, which will save on the envi- and presents business as responding to those needs.
ronment as well as use energy and raw materials However, the interactive production of openness is
efficiently and on a lasting foundation. (Y6, not a direct translation of adaptation to societal
translated) expectations and norms. The strategy differs from
14. Ekokem aims towards openly cooperating the previous centralizing one in the sense that the
with its clients, the authorities and other stake- attitude to stakeholders focuses on universalization
holders in order to be able to develop the corpo- (see e.g. Thompson 1990); businesses appear open
ration in such a manner that its operations and available to all and address the needs and
may even better answer clients expectations claims of everyone. More specifically, this strategy
and the changing demands of society. (Y3, presents stakeholder interaction in a rather idealistic
translated) manner in which conflicts of interest do not take
15. The corporation is committed to active environ- place, preferring to emphasize winwin solutions.
mental communication and from an environ- The order of interests in CSR discourse is thus dif-
mental perspective works towards carrying out ferent from that in centralizing strategies: a decen-
positive solutions in close co-operation with tralizing strategy mobilizes CSR discourse using

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integrative means towards the idea of balance in ship and what its significance is for CSR discourse.
CSR priorities and balance in stakeholder relations. We elaborate on our findings and conclusions and
For example, the reference to neutrality (excerpt no. discuss our limitations more broadly here.
18) as a guiding principle in stakeholder relations Our process of analysis leads us to distinguish two
implies that such activity is possible. However, in main discursive strategies through which business
previous literature, the interests are often under- society relations are constructed in SER: centralizing
stood to be competing or confrontational (Mitchell and decentralizing strategies. In centralizing strate-
et al. 1997, Banerjee 2007). gies, through the construction of subject positions
that imply authority (such as a leader role), the role
18. As a public utility and responsible for some of of a business and the right to define not only its
the states property assets, Senate Properties acts responsibility but the limits of that responsibility is
in a socially responsible way. This means that in strengthened. Centralizing strategies construct busi-
its activities Senate Properties takes economic, nesses as strategic forerunners rather than actors
social and environmental factors equally into merely responding to expectations or regulation.
consideration. Our activity is also market Centralizing strategies simultaneously veil the role of
neutral and treats all stakeholders equally. (Y16, stakeholders as an instrumental resource to achieve
translated) responsibility. Decentralizing strategies were more
19. Environmental protection is one of the central prevalent and provided constructions in which busi-
tasks in our modern society. It requires coopera- nesses would meet the expectations of stakeholders.
tion between all the actors involved in the The discursive means used thus construct business as
product life-cycle. (Y9, translated) an actor that can openly address the interests of
20. Nokia has always taken the following starting stakeholders in a neutral and balanced manner.
point: In the long run, both corporate and stake- Interests are constructed as jointly negotiated and
holders benefits require compliance with the shared with stakeholders in an integrated sense.
highest ethical standards and applicable laws. However, these kinds of discursive means, when
(Y13, translated) applied, can neutralize the fact that businesses are
pursuing their own interests in seeking cooperation
To conclude, contrary to centralizing strategies, with other stakeholder groups (Spence 2007).
decentralizing strategies emphasize the idea of busi- Although decentralizing strategies emphasize inte-
ness in society. Furthermore, the discursive means grated interests, regulative procedures and societal
used contribute to attempts to seek legitimacy by legitimacy have long been acknowledged as a pre-
presenting business as an actor that can openly condition for businesssociety relations in Nordic
address the interests of stakeholders in a neutral and countries. The emergence of stakeholder talk is
balanced manner. However, universalization of therefore no surprise, but SER also provides a com-
interests also dispels the power asymmetries in municative channel for the rediscovery of the value
businesssociety relations. of stakeholders: something that has generally been
acknowledged for decades in Finland as a way of
positioning the business. In international CSR litera-
Discussion and conclusions ture, the focus has been more on whether CSR pays
off (see Margolis & Walsh 2003).
Our aim in this article was to examine the ways in We contribute to the contemporary discussion of
which businesssociety relations are constructed in discursive struggles in businesssociety relations and
the SER of 24 Finnish companies. Using a critical the role various interests play in that struggle (see
discursive approach (Fairclough 2003), we examined Levy & Egan 2003, Banerjee 2007, Spence 2007,
the asymmetry of interests in constructions concern- Tregidga et al. 2008). CSR discourse as such can be
ing the businesssociety relationship. The aim was to considered powerful because it describes how com-
understand whose interests dominate in the relation- panies would give something back to society or
ship, how it affects the construction of the relation- develop its well-being, but at the same time, it hides

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...................................................................................................................................................................
Table 2: Distribution of strategies across companies
Corporation (Y1Y19, report 2005; Y20Y24, report 2007) Centralizing Decentralizing Business sector
Y1 Wrtsil 3 3 Shipping
Y2 Raisio 1 4 Food
Y3 Ekokem 2 8 Waste management
Y4 Fortum 2 9 Energy
Y5 Rautaruukki 2 2 Metal
Y6 Metso 3 7 Machinery
Y7 Saarioinen 1 1 Food
Y8 Valio 1 5 Food
Y9 Kesko 3 7 Retail
Y10 Huhtamki 5 1 Packaging
Y11 UPM-Kymmene 2 5 Forestry
Y12 Stora Enso 4 3 Forestry
Y13 Nokia 6 3 Communications
Y14 M-Real 3 8 Forestry
Y15 Tietoenator 3 1 Information technology
Y16 Senaatti-kiinteistt 4 6 Real estate services
Y17 Valtion rautatiet 3 1 Transportation
Y18 Vantaan energia 1 1 Energy
Y19 Teollisuuden voima 3 1 Energy
Y20 Outokumpu 3 4 Metal
Y21 Tikkurila 2 8 Construction
Y22 Mustankorkea Oy 2 2 Waste management
Y23 Loimi-Hmeen jtehuolto 1 2 Waste management
Y24 Sunila 3 1 Forestry
Total passages 63 93
...................................................................................................................................................................

tensions and is vague about how such well-being were used, whereas in the current literature, the
could be accomplished through what sort of rela- businesssociety relations are often treated as an
tionship and on whose terms (Banerjee 2007). Dis- either/or phenomenon (Wood 1991). This means that
cursive processes have implications for how we come social practice such as SER would then reflect either
to understand not only the responsibilities of busi- the business and society or the business in society
nesses but also the limits and terms of taking such view. Based on our discursive analysis, this is not the
responsibility. case. In some extreme cases, a passage from a report
We therefore suggest that SER is a social practice could indicate both business and society and business
shaped by discursive struggle over dominant inter- in society orientations. We see that because busi-
ests. SER also strengthens the hegemonic as- nesses are positioned in both ways, the analysis
sumptions that businesses can solve social and envi- shows the role SER can play in business hegemony.
ronmental issues and naturalizes stakeholders input More specifically, not all societal actors can be con-
as a part of this activity. Not only is reporting prac- structed in a position that would contribute to their
tice a societal legitimacy quest in which power asym- interests, nor can all actors have access to a certain
metries are veiled using cooperative and balancing discourse. Yet in SER, these two views were con-
language, but it can also be seen as a communicative stantly mixed, which indicates the power over the
action that provides a right to define the role of order of discourse and more specifically, the power
societal actors for the achievement of CSR. Further- over the order of interest. The distribution of the
more, in each of the 24 corporate responsibility passages across the companies is illustrated in
reports we analysed, both of the discursive strategies Table 2.

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The current study raises issues that future studies sive changes in SER. The nature of SER is continu-
might tackle. For example, it would be interesting to ally expanding and developing, and this calls for
have comparative studies on businesssociety rela- more research.
tions between larger and smaller businesses or
between businesses with their origins in various
national contexts. For example, as Table 2 shows, Acknowledgements
there was no clear difference in reporting language
between companies operating internationally and This research was supported by Tekes (grant 0170/
only in the domestic market. In addition, the focus 10) and The Finnish Work Environment Fund
could be more firmly on the cultural conventions on (grant 109344). We are also grateful to the two
which the limits of responsibility depend, and on how anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.
such constructions might become more global.
Detailed analysis of the argumentation that con-
structs the two major strategies would greatly con- Notes
tribute to our knowledge of the micro-processes
1. Although Tregidga & Milne (2006) do not make the
through which phenomena such as businesssociety
distinction between partnership and leadership, they
relations come to be constructed. Furthermore, while
emphasize only the leadership position. However,
studying corporate responsibility from a critical point we suggest that such a distinction can be examined
of view, it seems the critical field of CSR still remains as a discursive change from the quotes and vocabu-
rather fragmented. Despite the fact that CSR litera- lary provided in their study.
ture has attracted a number of theoretical reviews in 2. However, we do not aim to analyse all kinds of
recent years, the field would greatly benefit from an textual tactics, argumentation strategies, genres and
explicit review of the role of critical theories and the intertextual elements related to the use and produc-
contributions of a number of critical scholars, includ- tion of discourses, this being far too vast a scope for
ing, but not limited to, Habermas (Scherer & Palazzo one essay (see Reisigl & Wodak 2001, Fairclough
2007), Gramsci (see Spence 2007) and Foucault (see 2003).
e.g. Banerjee 2007) to businesssociety relations.
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