Hard soft law or soft hard law? A content analysis of CSR guidelines typologized along legal status.
A CSR guideline is an instrument aimed at guiding companies towards the application of CSR to limit the impact that the company has on society. The main problem concerned with CSR guidelines is that their legal status is blurred and as a consequence, their level of enforceability is not clearly understandable. Therefore, this paper focuses on defining the legal status of CSR guidelines through a content analysis of a sample of 34 CSR guidelines. Through the criteria-based development of a codebook, it has been possible to define the legal status of the guidelines and define the difference as hybrid forms leading to: soft soft, hard soft, soft hard and hard hard legal status. Every guideline was coded as belonging to one of the four hybrid legal status’. In fact, it is required to consider all the voluntary and all the mandatory guidelines as equivalent, as there is the necessity to further specify their legal status and their characteristics. The results obtained allowed not only to answer the research questions but also to arrive at further insights: even today, CSR should be considered a voluntary initiative, the government is playing an indirect role through voluntary CSR guidelines and increasing mandataory CSR regulations like in the EU (CSR reporting) or India (company act). Lastly, CSR guidelines need to be seen as interconnected in the co-evolution of CSR application.
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