How Does Culture Impact our Expectations of Corporate Social Responsibility?

Natalya Turkina


March 17th, 2013

Cultural differences between Eastern and Western countries have the potential to affect CSR whether it be in explicit form or implicit form.

Culture matters. In every aspect of our life and there is no doubt about it. CSR is such a product of corporate activity that it undeniably has its own cultural “face”. Many scholars have already acknowledged the existence of these differences and highlight culture as one of the main factors among drivers of CSR.

Let’s look at the issue from the perspective of our own everyday experience and observations. For example, in big countries with vast territories and abundant resources (e.g. Russia) adoption of sustainability will probably occur later than in those states where there is lack of land and minerals (e.g. Japan).

Apparently, Western European countries tend to save energy and work on new alternative sources of energy rather than their Eastern neighbors. One of the reasons might be their different cultural (communist and non-communist) backgrounds. Therefore, focuses and forms of CSR in different countries will be different. For some nations environmental issues will be prevailing whilst for some the social problems will be on the top of agenda.

Besides that, scholars (e.g. Matten and Moon, 2008) divide CSR practices into explicit and implicit. In some countries one type dominates whereas in other states another type of CSR can be spread more widely.

Implicit CSR is part of the “business–government-society” relations and it may be the result from some norms, which are recognized and followed by all parties (Angus-Leppan, Metcalf and Benn, 2010). For instance, IKEA would not have been allowed to open its retail shop in Novosibirsk (Russia) if it had not agreed to build a road junction (that includes a road and a bridge above it) near the shop. In many other countries this activity would be a governmental responsibility and business could not be engaged in it.

Another example from the Russian reality, where implicit CSR is typical, is the fact that many big corporations, which historically have been city-forming enterprises, might have such a big number of responsibilities in front the local community that without this company the whole region would suffer and barely could survive. At the same time, many of these enterprises do not have any traces of their CSR activity on their websites (sometimes they do not have even the latter). Explicit form of CSR reflects voluntary and proactive activities and usually is associated with CSR reports and performance monitoring. Interestingly, all the countries (India, South Korea and Japan) pointed out by Matten and Moor in their article (2008, p.418) as states with implicit CSR, according to Hofstede’s model of cultural dimensions, are long-term oriented, pragmatic countries.

Short-term disaster relief represents an explicit form of CSR

Short-term disaster relief represents an explicit form of CSR

Explicit CSR, in contraxt, can be found in African countries or the USA. Explicit CSR tends to be deliberate, visible, and highly strategic. These countries tend to be short-term oriented in their expectation of benefits. Indeed, if there is plenty of time ahead (long-term orientation) then there is no necessity to initiate any extra activities that go beyond the basic (formal or informal) requirements. These types of initiatives are also more likely to be promoted in glossy annual reports.

All in all, globalization is changing the overall picture of doing business, including CSR as well. Europe that used to have implicit forms of CSR (Matten and Moor, 2008) is changing its orientation and is becoming more “explicit”. Corporations all over the world have to transform their attitude to sustainability due to necessity to compete and sustain their competitive advantages; and sooner or later all business models will become isomorphic. And, again I will repeat myself (as I mentioned once in one of my previous articles) – education will help us a lot in it!



  1. Angus-Leppan T., Metcalf L. and Benn S. (2010) Leadership Styles and CSR Practice: An Examination of Sensemaking, Institutional Drivers and CSR Leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 93 (2), 189–213
  2. Matten, D. and Moon, J. (2008). ‘Implicit’ and ‘explicit’ CSR: A conceptual framework for a comparative understanding of corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 33 (2), 404–424

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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