The illusion of CSR: drawing the line between core and supplementary CSR Articles uri icon

publication date

  • October 2016

start page

  • 125

end page

  • 151


  • 1


  • 7

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2040-8021


  • Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the development of the theoretical framework for corporate social responsibility (CSR) and to provide a number of conceptual considerations which can be considered in the design of measures for corporate social performance (CSP). Design/methodology/approach: This study develops a theoretical framework of CSR and provides conceptual considerations to improve the measurement of CSP. The example of Spanish savings banks is used to illustrate the complexity of the concept of CSR, which includes different dimensions and relationships. Findings: CSP evaluation can be affected by the illusion of CSR, which may result in invalid conclusions on the relationship with financial performance. This risk mainly affects those studies whose CSP measure is based on charity or philanthropic activities, as most of the time they are disconnected from core business. These activities enjoy great visibility and, in some cases, such as Spanish savings banks, they become a thick veil that can be used to hide serious deficiencies in other key aspects of CSP. Research limitations/implications: This study has implications for the literature on the conceptual and theoretical framework of CSR and the research on the link between CSP and financial performance. This paper highlights the importance of seeking comprehensive measures that cannot be misleading because of the relationships between the components of CSR. Originality/value: The paper provides a novel conceptual framework for CSR, which connects the conceptual debate around "Strategic CSR" with the theoretical framework designed by Carroll's (1991) Pyramid of CSR and emphasizes the importance of a meticulous examination of the CSP construct before studying its relationship with financial performance.


  • csr; philanthropy; conceptual framework; empirical illustration; key stakeholders; spanish savings banks; corporate social-responsibility; financial performance; stakeholder theory; united-states; business; perspective; citizenship; commitment; strategy; industry