University of Oulu

Tensions in corporate social responsibility in Finnish small and medium sized enterprises

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Author: Molin, Jenny1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Oulu Business School, Department of Management and International Business, Management
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 7.6 MB)
Pages: 98
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : J. Molin, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-06-23
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Tuunainen, Juha
Reviewer: Kaasila-Pakanen, Anna-Liisa
Tuunainen, Juha


This thesis studies the tensions owner-managers of Finnish SMEs face when engaging in CSR activities, as well as how those tensions are experienced and managed by the owner-managers. It takes a paradox approach to tensions, as it understands that tensions are innate to CSR and consist of competing goals between the dimensions of CSR — economic, environmental and social. The study aims to open up the understanding of paradoxical tensions in CSR and their influence on the management of SMEs.

The thesis begins with a literature review of the CSR concept, introducing its chameleon nature and historical changes. The concept is then further specified to fit the Finnish and SME context, before moving to introducing tensions in CSR and their management. The thesis uses a qualitative approach and the data was gathered by interviewing owner-managers of five Finnish SMEs.

As CSR is becoming critical for many companies and they find ways to integrate CSR to their businesses, it’s evident that they will also growingly face tensions in their CSR engagement. The findings of this study provide information in the different levels, change and context that paradoxical tensions manifest in as well as between the traditional CSR dimensions. The findings suggest that Finnish SMEs face tensions between the individual goals of owner-managers and the company’s or industry’s goals or requirements. Paradoxical tension further manifest in the changes that take place to introduce more responsible practices, as well as between the long-term goals and short-term needs.

To manage tensions, the results suggest that SMEs integrate CSR to their core operations in order to act responsible and not to use CSR as an additional entity to maximise profits. Integration is utilised to strive for a balance between the competing goals of CSR. The study demonstrates that Finnish SMEs mainly use proactive strategies to manage paradoxical tensions where a balance is not possible, which reduce or prevent the occurrence of tensions. Contrastingly, some owner-managers are reluctant to acknowledge the tensions due to their impact to the core business, thus denying or justifying the tensions by moving it to a level that satisfies different stakeholders and shareholders. In this way, they convince themselves and others that as the company operates on a responsible basis, no tensions arise. The results further emphasise the usage of formal measurements, reporting or certificates to demonstrate CSR engagement, going against the previous understanding of SMEs informal CSR activities.

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Copyright information: © Jenny Molin, 2020. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.