Governance beyond governments? The regulation of corporate social responsibility through non-financial reporting
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This dissertation examines how the growth of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has led to the development of new public policy in the European Union. While many political scientists remain skeptical of the efficacy of CSR---questioning, for example, why companies would choose to self-regulate in any meaningful way given their profit motive---my research provides evidence for a more optimistic perspective. Looking in particular at the case of corporate non-financial (i.e. social and environmental) reporting, the dissertation illustrates the ways in which civil society organizations have used voluntary standards, not to replace government, but to drag it into policy areas that have been neglected or ignored. Though most thinking about CSR puts the firm at the center of analysis, this project demonstrates that the firm is better understood as the target of other organizations that seek to push the CSR agenda forward. These organizations play a critical role in both expanding the regulatory space and changing societal expectations for good corporate behavior. While voluntary standards are often insufficient to reach desired social and environmental outcomes, my work suggests that their most significant impact on society and the environment actually occurs via their influence on public policy---as what is voluntary becomes expected, and what is expected becomes mandatory. The project begins with the observation that the rise in voluntary corporate non-financial reporting (NFR) in several European countries was followed by the enactment of new legislation making such practices mandatory. Postulating a causal relationship between this increase in private regulation and the introduction of new state regulation, the dissertation proceeds to test this claim using a mixed-method research design. The first empirical chapter traces the process by which private regulation leads to a change public policy. Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Europe, this chapter illustrates the critical role that voluntary standards played both in establishing the NFR regulatory space and in building the coalitions necessary for enacting new public policy. The next chapter addresses the possibility of reverse causation by examining the determinants of firms' NFR practices. Using a multilevel data set comprising 2,000 of Europe's largest listed companies, the results indicate that it is firm-level factors such as revenue and sector that primarily drive voluntary reporting; national-level factors play only a supporting role. The third empirical chapter uses the same multilevel data set to examine the relationship between voluntary NFR and the development of NFR legislation at the national level. The results suggest that the popularity of voluntary standards represents a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for the enactment of mandatory legislation in most cases. The final empirical chapter examines the politics behind the European Union's 2014 directive on NFR, using public consultation data to demonstrate how the preferences of business, nonprofit, and public sector organizations across Europe are rooted in national policy legacies.