Investigating corporate social responsibility in supply chains: a SME perspective

Download article

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be defined as ‘‘the voluntary integration, by companies, of social and environmental concerns in their commercial operations and in their relationships with interested parties’’.

The economic, social and environmental benefits achieved when adopting socially responsible behaviors go beyond the boundaries of a single firm and involve wider communities. To be effective in terms of CSR, companies need all firms in their own supply chain (SC) to act in a socially responsible manner [2,3].

In the CSR literature, an increasing attention is devoted to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). Investigating CSR in SMEs is relevant for at least two reasons [4]. First, SMEs constitute 99% of the European Union (EU) business [5,6]. Second, CSR practices in SMEs are significantly different from those developed for large companies, due to SME peculiarities. For example, most SMEs are directly managed by owners, are strictly linked to business partners and the local community, and lack resources and support to implement CSR. Such aspects strongly affect the CSR practices adopted by SMEs.

This paper analyzes the practices adopted and difficulties experienced by SMEs to transfer socially responsible behaviors to suppliers that operate in developing countries.1 To achieve the paper’s goal we conducted a multiple case study on five Italian socially responsible SMEs that have relationships with suppliers that operate in developing countries.

The paper presents three main strengths. First, it contributes to fill a gap in the literature. Several studies highlight the specific role played by SMEs in the field of CSR (e.g., [4,7,8]). However, few studies investigate the adoption of CSR practices by SMEs from a SC perspective [3,4,9–11], which is the focus of this paper. Second, the case study methodology was adopted. Since case studies can be very effective to study complex themes such as CSR, several authors (e.g., [11–13]) have proposed case studies as a means to improve the mainstreaming of CSR. However, few case study researches have been conducted on CSR in SMEs [10,14,15]. Finally, the paper results can be used by SME managers interested in transferring socially responsible practices to SC partners.

The paper is organized as follows. In Section 2 we report the results of a literature reviewon CSR in SMEs and in SCs. In Section 3 we discuss the research design. Section 4 reports a short description of the case study companies, whereas Section 5 reports and discusses the results deriving from the cross-case analysis. Finally Section 6 presents the theoretical and managerial implications of the paper, discusses the limitations, and briefly presents future research streams.