CSR Disclosure Items Used as Fairness Heuristics in the Investment Decision

Journal of Business Ethics 152 (1):275-289 (2018)

The growth in demand for corporate social responsibility information raises the question of how various CSR disclosure items are used by investors, an important stakeholder group driven by instrumental, moral, and relational motives. Prior research examines the instrumental motive to maximize individual shareholder wealth and the moral motive to actualize personal stewardship interests. We contribute to the literature by examining investors’ relational motive to realize positive stakeholder relationships within and between organizations and communities. The relational motive arises when investors look at a company’s treatment of other stakeholder groups as a heuristic to form a perception of how fairly they will also be treated by that company in the future, and thus invest in the company they perceive as fair. Fair treatment in the future matters to the investor who purchases stock from the company or via the capital markets in exchange for becoming a shareholder and thus a residual claimant of the company. As such, the investor expects future cash flows from holding and/or reselling the stock and expects to be treated fairly by the company in the future. We propose that investors, use as a fairness heuristic, CSR disclosure items—CSR investment level or CSR assurance—that represent the company’s commitment to its stakeholders, and that the resulting fairness perception affects the extent to which the CSR disclosure items influence their investment decision. Using responses from 113 investors in an online experiment, we find that fairness perceptions are higher when CSR investment is above the industry average, and that fairness perceptions partially mediate the impact of the CSR investment level on investment amount allocations. We do not find that the presence of CSR assurance is used by investors as a fairness heuristic. Our results are robust to controlling for preferences for financial performance and hence investors’ instrumental motive, and to controlling for individual environmental attitudes, and hence investors’ moral motive. Implications for future research and public policy are discussed.
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-016-3307-3
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