Over the past decades the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has continued to grow in importance and significance due to external pressure of diverse stakeholders, and has thereby become more prominent on companies’ agendas (Carroll & Shabana, 2010; Beurden & Gossling, 2008). The concept of CSR has been subject to considerable debate, commentary, theory building and continues research (Carroll & Shabana, 2010). The question, of whether CSR investments result in financial and social benefits that outweigh its costs, is intensively scrutinized in existing literature (Schreck, 2001; Carroll & Shabana, 2010).
Adherents of CSR argue that it is in the long-term self-interest of corporations to be socially involved (Carroll & Shabana, 2010; Barnet 2007). The overall logic is that CSR increases the trustworthiness of firms and strengthens the relationships with stakeholders. CSR may further result in decreased transaction costs and thereby improved corporate financial performance (CFP), by decreasing employee turnover, reducing operating costs, as well as functioning as a buffer in disruptive events (Carroll & Shabana, 2010; Barnet, 2007).
Barnett (2007) and Schreck (2011) argue that, if the financial benefits of CSR meet or exceed the costs, CSR can be justified as a rational investment. According to Kurucz, Colbert and Wheeler (2008), firms may attain four distinct benefits from engaging in CSR; cost and risk reduction; gaining competitive advantage; developing reputation and legitimacy; and seeking win–win outcomes through synergistic value creation. Critics of CSR typically use classical economic arguments, articulated most forcefully by Friedman (Carroll & Shabana, 2010).
Traditionally, the expenditures of CSR are considered an illegitimate waste of resources, which conflict with a firm’s responsibility to its shareholders (Schreck, 2011, Barnet, 2007). According to Friedman (1970) “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game…”. Friedman further argued that, social issues are not the concern of business people, and “the business of business is business” (Carroll & Shabana, 2010).
Even though CSR have been subject to critique, an increasing number of corporations are accepting responsibilities that extend well beyond the immediate interest of the owners, by considering “non-shareholder stakeholders’ concerns” (Grant, 2010; Clegg, Carter, Kornberger & Schweitzer, 2011). Although the existence, direction and strength of possible links between CSR and CFP have been the subject of several empirical analyses (Schreck, 2011), and even though CSR is almost universally practiced, the results from empirical studies are inconclusive (De Bakker, Groenewegen & Hond, 2005).
After more than thirty years of research, it cannot clearly be concluded, whether a one-dollar investment in social initiatives returns more or less, than one dollar in benefits to shareholders (Barnet, 2007; Surroca & Tribo & Waddock, 2008). The inconclusiveness of empirical studies may be due to unclear and inconsistent definitions of key terms (De Bakker, Groenewegen & Hond, 2005; Barnet, 2007), methodological differences (Carrol & Shabana, 2010), and diverse approaches of measuring CSR and CFP (Beurden & Gossling, 2008).
In existing literature, CSR activities are often entioned to reduce risk, by avoiding the various consequences of moral disapproval by numerous stakeholders (Zadek, 2000). However, CSR derived risk reductions are considered as an ex-post beneficial outcome and not as a proactive risk management instrument to control or reduce idiosyncratic risk (firm specific). Under the assumption that, shareholders are risk adverse and prefer a high expected return (Bodie, Kane & Marcus, 2011; Brealey, Myers & Allen, 2011), a reduction of firm specific risk must be perceived as favorably.
Provided that CSR investments can be applied as a risk management tool, CSR could be seen as investments by firms on behalf of its shareholders. Taking a shareholder perspective, this paper looks beyond the socially good deed of CSR, and focuses on the value of CSR as a method to reduce idiosyncratic risk without detriment of CFP. CSR and Risk Management Since this paper hypothesizes that, CSR can be applied as a risk management instrument to preserve CFP, risk need to be defined.
Risk can be defined as the uncertainty about outcomes or events, especially with respect to the future (Orlitzky & Benjamin, 2001). Widely risk management is defined as a managerial tool to avoid risk, transfer risk to another party, reduce risk, or in some cases accepting consequences of a certain risk (Froot, Scharfstein & Stein, 1994). A shareholder’s perspective on risk management however, conflicts with the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) (Markowitz, 1952) and the Modigliani & Miller’s theorem on capital structure (1958).
CAPM theory states that, the cost of reducing idiosyncratic risks simultaneously reduces the expected return, and hence firm value (Markowitz, 1952). Risk reduction by holding a well-diversified portfolio of securities will be unattainable by risk management (Godfrey, Merrill & Hansen, 2009), why a profit-maximizing investor would not prefer risk management. Total firm risk is in general the combination of systematic and unsystematic risk (Hoje & Haejung, 2012).
Systematic risk, often referred to as market risk or non-diversifiable risk, is usually defined as the firm’s sensitivity to changes in the market average returns, which cannot be reduced by diversification of shareholders (Weber, 2008; Luo & Bhattacharya, 2009; Orlitzky & Benjamin, 2001). Unsystematic risk is defined as idiosyncratic risk (Hoje & Haejung, 2012; Luo & Bhattacharya, 2009). Idiosyncratic risk is traditionally viewed as indifferent to the portfolio investors, since it is associated with specific companies and thereby can be reduced by diversified portfolios (Husted, 2005; Weber, 2008).
Opposing idiosyncratic risk is of great relevance to the firm manager, whose very survival may depend upon taking adequate measures to reduce the idiosyncratic risk (Husted, 2005). Firms’ financial risk is often defined in terms of variability of returns (Orlitsky & Benjamin 2001), or stock price volatility (Luo & Bhattacharya, 2009), which is important risk measures, given that higher volatility implies greater investment risk and uncertain future cash flows (Luo & Bhattacharya, 2009; Oikonomou, Brooks & Pavelin, 2012).
A reduction in idiosyncratic risk reflects reduced variance in the future expected cash flows, which translates into greater shareholder wealth (Luo & Bhattacharya, 2009; Mishra & Modi, 2012). In a strict Modigliani and Miller perspective, risk-management instruments are of no value, since these are purely financial transactions that do not affect the value of a company’s operating assets (Froot, Scharfstein & Stein, 1994). The views of CAMP and Modigliani and Miller have been superseded by a postmodern view of risk management as an important strategic tool.
Firms do invest in insurances even though the costs of these investments may be in excess of expected losses, which is in clear violation with the perfect market assumption (Smith & Stulz, 1985; Stultz, 2002). If risk management can reduce firms’ exposure to idiosyncratic risks, it protects shareholders against the deadweight costs of severe financial distress in a way, that investors can not accomplish in the market by diversifying (Godfrey, Merrill & Hansen, 2009). Review of the linkage between CSR and risk
For several decades, researchers have aimed at discovering a conclusive linkage between CSR and CFP, the literature however, remains highly fragmented (Aguinis & Glavas 2012). According to Orlitsky & Benjamin (2001) true economic performance manifests itself in both high financial returns and low financial risk. Among financial and non-monetary benefits, risk reduction is often mentioned as a positive outcome of engaging in CSR activities. Porter and Kramer (2006) argue that, today’s pressure, of external stakeholders to hold companies accountable for social issues, learly demonstrate the potential large financial risks for any corporation.
Several scholars emphasize, that the costs of CSR can be justified by reductions in risk and costs derived from engagement in social issues (Caroll & Shabana, 2010). The primary argument is that the diverse demands of stakeholders represent potential threats and risks to the viability of the firm, why it is the economic interest of firms to mitigate these threats and gain legitimacy through social involvement (Caroll & Shabana, 2010; Schreck, 2011; Kurucz, Colbert & Wheeler 2008).
Existing literature on the CSR-risk relationship is virtually unanimously agreeing upon a negative correlation between CRS and idiosyncratic risk, where empirical results show that CSR lowers idiosyncratic risk (Spicer, 1978; Orlitsky & Benjamin, 2001; Godfrey, 2005; Hoje & Haejung, 2012; Caroll & Shabana, 2010; Godfrey, Merrill & Hansen, 2009; Heal, 2005; Luo & Bhattacharya, 2012; Oikonomou, Brooks & Pavelin, 2012; Berman, Wicks, Kotha & Jones, 1999; Hart, 1995; Shrivastava, 1995; Peloza, 2006).
Several studies have also shown a significant negative relationship between CSR and systematic risk (non-diversifiable) (Hoje & Haejung 2012; Orlitzky & Benjamin, 2001; Mcguire, Sungren & Scneewies, 1988; Luo & Bhattacharya, 2009). CSR reduces idiosyncratic risk by reducing the probabilities of expected financial, social, or environmental crisis that could adversely influence firms’ cash flows (Hoje & Haejung, 2012).
Firms perceived as socially responsible may be able to increase interpersonal trust among stakeholders, build social capital, lower transaction costs, and therefore ultimately reduce uncertainty about future financial performance (Orlitzky & Benjamin, 2001). Luo and Bhattacharya (2009) present the view of CSR, as helping the firm build a bulwark of defense against future losses of economic value by reducing firm specific risk and vulnerability of future cash flows.
Firms with high social responsibility may have lower financial risk, since these are less sensitive to certain negative external events, like regulatory governmental intervention, undesirable publicity, probability of civil- and criminal legal proceedings or consumer boycotts, why risk reduction can be seen as a monetary benefit of CSR (Mcguire, Sungren & Scneewies, 1988; Oikonomou, Brooks & Pavelin, 2012; Weber, 2008; Orlitzky & Benjamin, 2001; Mcguire, Sungren & Scneewies, 1988).
Participation in specific types of CSR, those aimed at a firm’s secondary stakeholders or society as a whole, is argued to create a form of goodwill or positive “philanthropic moral reputational capital”, which functions as an insurance-like protection, when negative events occur (Godfrey, 2005; Peloza, 2006). When business activity creates negative impact on society, stakeholders respond by sanctioning the firm (Godfrey, Merrill & Hansen, 2009).
It is argued that the goodwill, derived from engagement in CSR, reduces the overall severity of the sanctions, by encouraging stakeholders to give the firm ‘the benefit of the doubt‘(Godfrey, 2005; Uzzi, 1997; Peloza, 2006; Godfrey, Merrill & Hansen, 2009). The resultant moral capital gained from social engagement has little to do with generating financial value, but the insurance-like protection contributes with preserving shareholder value and thereby financial performance (Godfrey, Merrill & Hansen, 2009).
Mishra and Modi (2012) fund a significant effect on idiosyncratic risk, when CSR is applied, the authors however enhanced this result by finding that, positive CSR reduces idiosyncratic risk, while negative CSR increases idiosyncratic risk. Literature has, according to Mishra and Modi (2012), often a singular focus on positive CSR, and overlooks that firms also occasionally engage in activities that qualifies as negative CSR. Luo and Bhattacharya (2009) and Porter and Kramer (2006) argue that CSR is not beneficial in all situations, but is rather advantageous in some contexts and disadvantageous in others and can even lead to additional risk.
This is in line with Barnet (2007), who argues that stakeholders’ perception of firms’ CSR engagement are path-dependent (Barnet, 2007; Luo & Bhattacharya, 2009; Hoje & Haejung, 2012). For firms with social negative impact or prior bad reputation, CSR may be perceived as “blood money” to mitigate past sins, omissions or shortcomings (Luo & Bhattacharya, 2009; Barnet 2007). CSR can thereby lead to reduced idiosyncratic risk, but can also expose a firm to additional risk (Weber, 2008; Barnet, 2007).
Discussion Even though the CSR-risk relationship have received much attention in the existing literature, managing risk as the predominantly basic for engaging in CSR has not received specific attention. Focus within the field is on ex-post measures of risk-related benefits, where CSR is not valued as a proactive tool to reduce idiosyncratic risk. Existing research does not seem to provide any practical guidance to managerial proactive evaluations of the risk reductions derived from CSR involvement.
It further lacks a practical framework to ex-ante quantify the risk related benefits of CSR (Weber, 2008). The above review demonstrates the focus on risk, solely as valuable side-effect of engaging in CSR activities. The authors of the paper posit a research gap exists within the existing literature of CSR and risk: CSR is not considered as a proactive ex-ante risk management instrument to control and reduce firm risk. Given the risk reducing benefits of CSR, the authors suggest that investments in CSR can be used as a proactive risk management instrument to reduce idiosyncratic risk.
Such an approach could strengthen the overall CSR involvement and support rational ex-ante decision-making in this area (Weber, 2008). The aim is to draw a much-need attention to the risk-reduction potential of CSR by viewing CSR investments as a proactive risk management tool, where managing risk is the main purpose for engaging in CSR. Empirical resolving the research gap and verifying the hypothesis is beyond the scope of this paper. The authors however, suggest that a potential solution is to apply real option theory as a basis for proactive CSR risk management decision-making.
CSR as a real option Attributable to the aforementioned arguments, the function of CSR as a risk management tool can be considered as a real option. Regular options are based on securities (financial instruments), whereas real options are based on hedging against uncertainties in real investment projects (Mun, 2002). An analysis of the costs and benefits of CSR projects, using traditional NPV models, often leads to a rejection, as these fail to contribute to maximizing shareholder value (Friedman, 1962).
This is, nevertheless, not always the right decision, as the NPV approach fails to incorporate the main advantage of real options (Husted, 2005). Compared to the traditional NPV approach, real options offer management flexibility through multiple decision-making in situations with high uncertainty. Managers have the option, but not the obligation, to engage in, modifying or end strategies, as new information becomes available (Mun, 2002). A CSR option offers the choice of deferring, abandoning, expanding, or staging an investment project (Amram & Howe, 2003).
Due to the theoretical and mathematical complexity of option theory, which is beyond the scope of this scientific paper, option theory will be described on an incomprehensive level. In brief option pricing is a function of five variables: the value of the underlying asset, the exercise price, time to exercise, the risk-free interest rate, and the volatility of the underlying asset (Black & Scholes, 1973).
The value of the underlying asset is the resources resulted from the CSR option, such as qualified employees, PR and cost avoiding’s etc. Husted, 2005). The exercise price refers to the required additional investments needed for receiving the value created by the CSR option. The timing of the exercise is an essential variable, as it has great effect on the value of CSR options. The risk-free interest rate does not play an important role in most real options (Mun, 2002). The volatility or the uncertainty of the underlying asset has a significant impact on the value of CSR options (Mun, 2002). The variance of the expected value can both be higher or lower than the expected return.
Black and Scholes is the most widely used regular option pricing model, however, also one of the most complicated models (Mun, 2002). A Binomial lattice approach is applied in most real option pricing, as it provides a more transparent and intuitive appeal compared with Black and Scholes’ theoretical and mathematical approach (Mun, 2002). However, since the aim is solely to clarify the value of real options in a CSR context, the choice of approach is of less relevance.
Real options provide an important framework for firms to manage risk by reducing the risk of future investments, and can thus be an essential tool in corporate risk management (Husted, 2005). Finally, a real CSR option explicitly includes a time dimension. This ex-ante perspective is clearly different from the focus on risk in most CSR-risk research, which is ex post in nature. CSR as a risk management instrument – The Toyota example A few decades ago, car manufacturers did not focus so intensively on a green profiling as they do today.
The increased oil prices in 1973 and 1979 were influential for the entry of Japanese car manufacturers in USA, who were producing smaller and more gas efficient cars (Andrews, Simon, Tian & Zhao, 2011). The gas efficient cars of Japanese manufactures were causative to the car industry as a whole subsequently invested massively in green technology projects. These investments have met consumers’ need and have generated positive branding values. Toyota’s Prius has reached “cult status”, as it is one of the most gas efficient and green cars on the market.
However, more interestingly is the security, that the green profile of the Prius has offered Toyota, which includes protection against the bad publicity of car manufacturers’ contribution to pollution and factors such as Middle Eastern conflicts that influence oil prices and hence sales of cars. At first glance, it appears as Toyota has been skilled at forecasting future trends and meeting customer’s needs without using CSR as management instrument. As the following example however illustrates, Toyota’s management could have benefitted from considering investments in CSR as real options to control idiosyncratic risk and thereby preserve CFP.
In 2009 repeated accidents occurred, which were accused to be caused by flaws in floor mats and accelerator pedals in Toyota’s vehicles. This resulted in a recall of more than 5 million vehicles, alone in the North American market (Andrews, Simon, Tian & Zhao, 2011). Before a product is recalled, companies have to make severe considerations. A product-recall can have great financial impact in terms of losses in brand value, consumer goodwill, decreasing sales and a negative effect on stock prices (Kumara & Schmitza, 2011), which in this case is the value of the underlying asset of the CSR option.
The decision to recall the cars is the price of the option. The recall option could have generated strategic flexibility, which however, meanwhile was eliminated, as Toyota’s management failed to exercise the option, before it was too late. The leisurely recall decision resulted in losses in brand value, consumer goodwill, decreased stock price, lower sales, a fine of $16 million and more than 130 potential class-action lawsuits (Andrews, Simon, Tian & Zhao, 2011).
The negative outcome of the late recall is considered as high volatility of the underlying asset. A faster recalling could have had a avoiding, a limited or opposite effect on product brand, consumer goodwill and the massive media coverage (Husted, 2005). Provided that Toyota’s management had viewed the recall decision as a valuable option rather than severe costs, strategic flexibility could have been obtained, why the negative outcome may have been avoided.
A faster exercise of the recall option might have resulted in goodwill or trust, which could have been exploited by Toyota to limit the negative publicity caused by the repeated accidents. Toyota however, failed to exercise the recall option in acute time, why the result was lost flexibility to respond to the unexpected event of the accidents. The value of the real option foregone by Toyota was a function of inter alia lost sales, brand value and reputation. Toyota’s management failed to exploit the advantages of CSR as a risk management tool.