What role does geography play in how people experience corporate social responsibility (CSR)?

Amy O'Connor

“The quest to answer this question began in the summer of 2018 with survey research at the Minnesota State Fair. At the Fair, my research team (which included both undergraduate and graduate students) collected more than 1,200 surveys from residents all across the state of Minnesota. We had participation from nearly every single county in the state. Minnesota is home to more than 900 corporate headquarters, which makes it a great place to find answers to my question.

“Participants in the study were asked a variety of questions to understand what expectations they had of corporations in and outside of their community. In addition, we asked Minnesotans to tell us what types of behavior they would engage in if a company was behaving responsibly or irresponsibly.

“At the broadest level, the majority of our survey participants agreed that communities which have corporate headquarters are significantly better off than communities that do not have corporate headquarters. Relatedly, the majority of survey respondents indicated that corporations make a positive difference in the overall well being of the community including helping to solve important environmental and social issues, and they wished that the community they live in had more corporations headquartered there.

“Preliminary analysis of that data suggests that Minnesotans have different CSR expectations/experiences for corporations in their communities versus those located elsewhere. Overall, people described corporations in their community more favorably than corporations located elsewhere. Specifically, participants viewed corporations in their community as being more competent, effective, kind, helpful and worker friendly than companies located elsewhere.

“In addition, people indicated that they will behave differently to corporations in their community that act irresponsibly than those located elsewhere. Specifically, they were more likely to engage in pro-corporate behaviors, like sharing information with friends and family or on social media, when corporations in their community behaved responsibly than if the company is located elsewhere. Conversely, they were less likely to engage in anti-corporate behavior, like signing a petition or posting negative comments on social media, when companies in their community behaved irresponsibly compared to companies located elsewhere.

“We are intrigued by the initial data analysis. Moving forward this project will consider how the ratio of population to number of corporate headquarters influences people’s responses as well as determine the extent to which differences exist between communities.”

- Associate Professor Amy O’Connor.