Guanxi and legitimacy: understanding corporate social responsibility and public relations in China and the U.S.
This study provides a cross-cultural comparison of public relations practitioners as the facilitators of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives in China and in the U.S. A qualitative investigation was conducted employing grounded theory and in-depth interviews with 11 participants, incorporating representatives from top U.S. and China public relations firms, including five top ten international public relations firms. The research found that guanxi (business relationships) is a major cultural influence on the institutionalization of CSR in China, whereas legitimacy, and a need to develop more sophisticated business strategy and protect brand image, has driven CSR development at an increased rate in the West. The results build on a theoretical understanding of CSR as having an economic, legal, ethical, and/or discretionary rationale (Carroll, 1979), and call for a new theoretical understanding that focuses more on the benefit of CSR to society and its integration with business strategy. The study validates the role of public relations practitioners as the facilitators of CSR. Finally, the findings indicate that CSR is not paradigmatic by region so much as by business experience. That is, an overarching cross-cultural CSR paradigm emerged in this study that correlated effective CSR programs with levels of experience in running a business in the free-enterprise system. This study revealed a pattern of global activation that starts by uniting an organization around a similar issue or interest, activating stakeholders at the local level and adjusting for community-specific and culturally specific need, and laddering local effects back up to a greater global awareness and impact (Figure 1.1).