Getting By or Getting Ahead? Strategic Responses to the Institutionalization of CSR among China's Public Firms



We study variations of firms’ strategic responses to the institutionalization of corporate social responsibility programs among Chinese public firms. Borrowing insights from recent literature on practice variation and diffusion, we develop a typology of firms’ CSR strategies based on their degree of conformity to the scope and content dimensions of their CSR practices. We propose an internal dynamics and external pressures framework to reveal the antecedents of corporate social strategy adoption. The empirical results of corporate social strategies of Chinese listed companies from 2008 to 2013 suggest that pension funds invested companies are more likely to adopt the balancing strategy, while professional investment funds backed companies tend to favor the pacifying strategy. The high level political status controlled companies prefer the complying and pacifying strategies, and companies with lower level political status ultimate controllers pay more attention to the balancing and challenging strategy. Finally, the social and legal constraints suggest that companies within the socially contested industry have a higher intention to adopt the balancing strategy, while companies of high litigation risk would prefer the pacifying strategy over the others. We discuss implications for CSR literature and managerial guidelines for corporate practices.