Explaining heterogenous business responses to CSR programmes in an emerging market
: the case of Mexico’s ESR seal

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis studies heterogenous business responses in an emerging market context to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) voluntary programmes that encourage businesses to tackle some of the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems. Whilst the literature suggests that participation in voluntary programmes drives CSR in emerging markets (Visser, 2008; Weyzig, 2006) and that they have the potential to act as policy mechanisms (Potoski & Prakash, 2009), little is known about why some businesses participate in these programmes whilst others do not. On the one hand, CSR scholars taking a comparative institutionalist approach show that differences in National Business Systems (NBS) explain business heterogenous CSR responses across countries, assuming homogeneity within countries as theorised by institutional isomorphism. However, these institutional explanations offer a deterministic and over-socialised view of organisational behaviour overlooking the role of agency, a key idea in the field of CSR (Blindheim, 2015). On the other hand, scholars argue that business heterogenous CSR responses are explained by the businesses’ strategy, resources, and managerial discretion. However, these explanations provide an undersocialised view of organisations and downplay the role of the external environment in which businesses operate. As a result, the CSR literature is fragmented between internal and external explanations for business CSR behaviour (Frynas & Yamahaki, 2016) that differ in levels of analysis and agency considerations. Informed by the literature and following scholarly suggestions (See Aguilera et al., 2007; Aguinis & Glavas, 2012; Jamali & Neville, 2011), this research takes a multi-level approach to CSR to explore factors and motivations at the macro, meso and micro levels of analysis. It does so by adopting an institutional logics framework that embeds insights from comparative institutionalism, new institutionalism and institutional works through the notion of institutional flows. This study takes the heterogenous responses of businesses in the tourism industry to the ESR seal programme in Mexico from 2001 to 2016 as a case study, and finds that CSR heterogeneity is explained by institutional complexity and the agency opportunities it provides for individuals to interpret the various templates of CSR prescriptions and decide participation in voluntary programmes. It shows that multiple CSR logics that carry different degrees of explicit and implicit CSR, encouraged by national formal and informal institutions and stakeholder pressures for CSR divergence, convergence and crossvergence, co-exist and compete among themselves. Hence, this study proposes a multi-level embedded institutional theoretical framework led by an institutional logics perspective, a rare approach in the CSR literature, that bridges across levels of analysis through the premise of multi-level logics and embedded agency. This framework captures the multi-directional interactions between national institutions, institutional pressures, organisational and individual’s characteristics, and multi-level motivations. The framework identifies the predicting, moderating and mediating roles of factors at multiple levels of analysis. It also identifies five paths that lead businesses to participate in voluntary programmes, specific configurations of factors and motivations across levels of analysis; and a typology of five forms of non-participation each informed by a specific configuration of factors across levels of analysis that illustrate barriers to participation. Hence, this study provides a more nuanced understanding of heterogeneity of responses to CSR voluntary programmes in emerging markets than the current literature provides. Moreover, the findings of this thesis challenge the literature assumptions of institutional homogeneity within countries and suggest that the literature has presented a set of ‘false’ dichotomies between implicit and explicit forms of CSR, early and late participation, and internal and external motivations.
Date of Award1 Jul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorLuciano Ciravegna (Supervisor) & Peter Kingstone (Supervisor)

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