Corporate social performance, corporate social responsibility, voluntary disclosure, voluntary reporting, legitimacy, stakeholder theory


The three studies in this dissertation explore the relationship between Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Corporate Financial Performance (CFP). CSR consists of social, ethical, and environmental performance dimensions that have not traditionally appeared in mandated financial reports and largely reflect societal expectations for corporate behavior beyond legal and regulatory constraints. CSR is reflected in both corporate actions (performance outcomes) and voluntary reporting (disclosure), and the two are not necessarily equivalent due to managerial discretion in disclosure. Although the mechanisms remain unclear, the general consensus is that there is a positive relationship between CSR and CFP. In considering the drivers and goals of CSR, two themes emerge and are used to inform these papers: a stakeholder view of organizational relationships and the need to signal legitimacy in the face of changing social norms. A stakeholder view asserts that a wide range of groups across society are important to the long-term success and health of the organization. Legitimacy theory provides the explanation of why the stakeholder view is important to organizational success and can produce significant strategic advantages. The first study utilizes archival data in an exploration of how to model the relationship between Corporate Social Performance (CSP) and CFP. Using independent evaluations of organizational CSP from KLD STATS, I explore the CSP-CFP relationship at four different levels (overall CSP, component CSP, directional component CSP, and issue-based component CSP). I consider the effect of CSP on a range of outcome measures of CFP performance, at different levels of aggregated performance measures and linkage to stakeholder groups. Finally, I explore the pattern of significant CSP components on individual CFP outcome measures to iv determine if there is evidence for changing associations based on relevant stakeholder groups, in answer to concerns raised by prior research (Wood and Jones 1995; Orlitzky, Schmidt, and Rynes 2003). I find that (a) stock market measures are extremely insensitive to CSP; (b) the appropriate measurement level of CSP varies with the degree to which the CFP measure is aggregated and attributable to a more focused group of stakeholders; and (c) significant CSP aspects and associated CFP outcomes do vary in patterns and sensitivity. The second study examines the role voluntary social disclosure plays in economic performance through an attribute I term resilience. Resilience influences stakeholder resource allocation decisions in the face of unexpected poor performance attributable to an exogenous shock and is associated with perceived organizational legitimacy. To test this model, an experiment is conducted in which participants are asked to assess the perceived legitimacy of an organization based on information characteristics of voluntary CSR disclosure and then to make reallocation decisions in the face of poor performance caused by an industry crisis not involving the underlying organization. I find that high quality disclosure (driven by reporting accuracy) is significantly associated with greater perceived legitimacy. In turn, the legitimacy construct is significantly associated with resilience following an exogenous shock. The final study considers organizational choices in CSR disclosure to preserve credibility in the face of a crisis threatening the legitimacy of the institutional framework. Using qualitative data surrounding the turbulent 2001 – 2002 period encompassing the Enron and WorldCom scandals and the fall of Andersen, I examine organizational voluntary disclosure decisions to ascertain how they sought to preserve their own informational credibility and legitimacy in the face of a threat that did not directly involve their actions. I find that organizations responded v throughout this period by increasing signals of both transparency (greater CSR disclosure) and credibility (greater use of external sources of assurance of that disclosure). I also find that thirdparty assurance was not widely used, and remained at a steady, minimal percentage over time. Overwhelmingly, organizations turned to the implementation of an independent, external reporting framework (e.g., the Global Reporting Initiative’s widespread guidelines) that provided consistency and comparability in their reporting, made use of standardized measurements and definitions, and required specific items and measures.


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Graduation Date





Roberts, Robin


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Business Administration

Degree Program

Business Administration; Accounting








Release Date

August 2012

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Business Administration -- Dissertations, Academic, Dissertations, Academic -- Business Administration

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Accounting Commons