Journal of Business Ethics 88 (1):175-197 (2009)

This paper explores the role of NGOs in corporate social responsibility (CSR) through an analysis of various stakeholders’ perceptions and of NGOs’ self-perceptions. In the course of qualitative research based in Spain, we found that the perceptions of the role of NGOs fall into four categories: recognition of NGOs as drivers of CSR; concerns about their legitimacy; difficulties in the mutual understanding between NGOs and trade unions; the self-confidence of NGOs as important players in CSR. Each of these categories comprises the various elements analysed in the paper. We found some discrepancies between the perception of others and the self-perceptions of NGOs, which explains why their role is often controversial. The research confirms that secondary stakeholders, such as NGOs, are key players in CSR, but their role is still regarded as controversial and their legitimacy contested. Deep-seated misunderstandings and mistrust among various stakeholder groups (particularly between NGOs and trade unions) are a possible hurdle to the integration of social and environmental concerns in business activity and corporate governance in Spain. The study finds that business managers need to take a less firm-centric and a more contextual approach, and look more closely into the relationship with and among stakeholder groups. For NGO managers, the research shows that NGOs are not always aware of the stereotypes they generate and the problems caused mainly by what is seen as ambivalent roles: critic and counsellor, accuser and judge, idealist and fund raiser.
Keywords stakeholder engagement  CSR  NGOs  perceptions  legitimacy  trade unions
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-009-0109-x
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