Understanding power-related strategies and initiatives: the case of the European Commission green paper on CSR

Massimo Contrafatto, John Ferguson, David Power, Lorna Ann Stevenson, David Collison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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The purpose of this paper is to provide a theoretically informed analysis of a struggle for power over the regulation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social and environmental accounting and reporting (SEAR) within the European Union.


The paper combines insights from institutional theory (Lawrence and Buchanan, 2017) with Vaara et al.’s (2006) and Vaara and Tienar’s (2008) discursive strategies approach in order to interrogate the dynamics of the institutional “arena” that emerged in 2001, following the European Commission’s publication of a Green Paper (GP) on CSR policy and reporting. Drawing on multiple sources of data (including newspaper coverage, semi-structured interviews and written submissions by companies and NGOs), the authors analyse the institutional political strategies employed by companies and NGOs – two of the key stakeholder groupings who sought to influence the dynamics and outcome of the European initiative.


The results show that the 2001 GP was a “triggering event” (Hoffman, 1999) that led to the formation of the institutional arena that centred on whether CSR policy and reporting should be voluntary or mandatory. The findings highlight how two separate, but related forms of power (systemic and episodic power) were exercised much more effectively by companies compared to NGOs. The analysis of the power initiatives and discursive strategies deployed in the arena provides a theoretically informed understanding of the ways in which companies acted in concert to reach their objective of maintaining CSR and SEAR as a voluntary activity.


The theoretical framework outlined in the paper highlights how the analysis of CSR and SEAR regulation can be enriched by examining the deployment of episodic and systemic power by relevant actors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-587
Number of pages29
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2019


  • Corporate social responsibility policy
  • Green paper
  • Institutional politics
  • Power-infused dynamics
  • Social and environmental accounting and reporting


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