The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology


Retailers and Corporate Social Responsibility: Developing A Strategic Agenda

This ESRC Impact Grant will fund the engagement in two, related knowledge transfer activities on the cutting-edge theme of retailers and corporate social responsibility. Retailers are situated at the leading edge of the contemporary service-based economy in the UK and the wider world. An emerging elite group of retail transnational corporations, in particular, are playing a significant role in generating employment, shaping cultures of consumption and orchestrating supply chains on a global scale. In the context of an increasingly liberalised economy, the activities of these retailers are governed by agendas of corporate responsibility. A current ESRC research project comparing the organisation of ethical trade by UK and US food and clothing retailers is nearing completion. 96 in-depth interviews, including 28 with retail corporations, have been conducted and key findings will soon be disseminated in the form of a Stakeholder Report to all interviewees. This project has been successful in identifying areas of ethical trading practice about which participating companies can actively learn.

Phase I of the knowledge transfer activity involves the promotion of key findings from the ESRC-funded research. This will be done through a series of targeted, face-to-face meetings with ethical trading representatives of key retail corporations. Prioritising the ethical trading managers interviewed in the project who represent the leading UK and US food and clothing retailers in terms of market share; they include Tesco, Sainsbury, ASDA, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose, Gap, JC Penney, The Limited and Sears. All of these high-profile corporations participated in the ESRC research and are enthusiastic about further engagement with the findings. Inclusion of US companies is seen as important because there is considerable scope for learning between corporations on an international scale.

Phase II will develop new activity concerning collaborative development with retailers of a strategic agenda for corporate social responsibility in the context of retail transnational corporations (retail TNCs). Retail TNCs are those companies that have expanded their retail operations beyond their country of origin through foreign direct investment. For many, including Tesco and Wal-Mart in the project sample, this expansion has seen their entry into emerging markets in Eastern Europe, South East Asia and Latin America. Such international expansion carries with it a set of challenges regarding the responsible management of these global operations. There is considerable scope for knowledge transfer activity involving the engagement between researchers and corporate responsibility managers in the collaborative development of a strategic agenda on this important subject.