Source: Revisiting Carroll’s CSR Pyramid – The Copenhagen Centre
Carroll (1979) categorised CSR in a paper on corporate social performance, along four layers which he labelled economic, legal, ethical and discretionary responsibilities. The four classes reflect that “the history of business suggests an early emphasis on the economic and then legal aspects and a later concern for the ethical and discretionary aspects”. In 1991, Carroll (1991) first presented his CSR model as a pyramid, as shown in the following Figure. It was suggested that, although the components are not mutually exclusive, it “helps the manager to see that the different types of obligations are in a constant tension with one another”.
More recently Carroll (2004) attempted to incorporate the notion of stakeholders. Economic responsibility contains to “do what is required by global capitalism”, legal responsibility holds that companies “do what is required by global stakeholders”, ethical responsibility means to “do what is expected by global stakeholders”, and philanthropic responsibility means to “do what is desired by global stakeholders” (authors’ original emphasis).
Carroll’s four-part conceptualisation has been the most durable and widely cited in the literature (Crane & Matten, 2004). Some of the reasons for this could be that:
1. The model is simple, easy to understand and has an intuitively appealing logic;
2. Over the twenty five years since it Carroll first proposed the model, it has been frequently reproduced in top management and CSR journals, mostly by Carroll himself (Carroll, 1979, 1983, 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2004);
3. Carroll has sought to assimilate various competing themes into his model, e.g. corporate citizenship (Carroll, 1998) and stakeholders (Carroll, 2004);
4. The model has been empirically tested and largely supported by the findings (Aupperle, Carroll, & Hatfield, 1985; Pinkston & Carroll, 1994); and
5. The model incorporates and gives top priority to the economic dimension as an aspect of CSR, which may endear business scholars and practitioners. In fact Carroll (1991) goes so far as to point out how little his definition of CSR differs from Friedman’s (1970) view of the responsibilities of the firm.
Aupperle, Hatfield & Carroll (1985; 1983) performed the first empirical test of the four part CSR model by surveying 241 Forbes 500 listed CEOs using 171 statements about CSR. The statistical analysis supported the model in two ways: 1) by confirming that there are four empirically interrelated, but conceptually independent components of CSR; and 2) by giving tentative support to the relative weightings assigned Carroll earlier assigned to each of the four components. It is worth noting, however, that in this second conceptualisation, Carroll’s framework reflects the perceptions of business leaders about the current relative importance of the four CSR categories, rather than an historical or dependence perspective.
In an effort to extend the earlier empirical analysis (Aupperle et al., 1985), Pinkston & Carroll (1994) performed a similar survey among top managers in 591 U.S. subsidiaries of multinational chemical companies with headquarters in England, France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S. Aggregate findings once again confirmed Carroll’s four-part weighted model but interestingly showed Germany and Sweden to be exceptions, where legal responsibilities were ranked the highest priority followed by economic, ethical, and philanthropic aspects respectively. Comparison with the Aupperle, Hatfield & Carroll’s (1985) findings also showed that in the intervening ten years the gap between the relative weightings of economic and legal responsibilities had decreased, while ethical responsibilities appeared to be increasing, and philanthropic responsibilities decreasing in importance (Pinkston & Carroll, 1996).
Another study tested Carroll’s CSR Pyramid for a sample of 503 large Black-owned businesses in the U.S., suggesting the importance of culture (Edmondson & Carroll, 1999). The survey found that, while the economic component was rated as most important, ethical responsibilities were prioritised above legal responsibilities, and the differential between philanthropic and legal responsibilities was relatively small. A further study with a cultural dimension compared the views of 165 Hong Kong and 157 U.S. students on CSR and found that Hong Kong students emphasised economic aspects more strongly than their U.S. counterparts, and gave no difference in weighting between legal and ethical dimensions of CSR (Burton, Farh, & Hegarty, 2000).
The table below summarises the mean values of these various empirical studies.
Comparison of CSR studies using Carroll’s pyramid concept
Aupperle, Carroll & Hatfield (1985)
Pinkston & Carroll (1994)
Edmondson & Carroll (1999)
Burton, Farh & Hegarty (2000)
· Hong Kong