Communicating With Stakeholders Through Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting: A Thematic Analysis of Multinationals Operating in Malaysia
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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an ever-growing concept in communication which provides an avenue for engagement between organisations and stakeholders. Malaysia, a developing country with a strong multinational presence, has started to embrace CSR in its business practices. In 2016, the local government mandated CSR disclosure for all public listed companies. This move has put forth the potential of CSR reporting as a vital tool in stakeholder communication, especially for multinational corporations (MNCs) that have the additional hurdle of navigating local and international stakeholders. Despite growing interest in this field, there seems to be limited empirical research outside of Europe and the US that studies the link between CSR reporting and stakeholders. The aim of this research was to gain a country-specific insight into the purpose of CSR reporting in stakeholder communication by examining the content of mandatory reporting. CSR reports of the year 2019 from three European multinationals operating in Malaysia were chosen as samples for this study. Data collection in this study involved the use of thematic analysis to analyse the contents of the selected CSR reports. The themes generated aimed to address how MNCs operating in Malaysia utilised CSR reports to communicate with their respective stakeholders. Thematic analysis highlighted the government, parent companies, and investors as key stakeholders in CSR reporting. The reports can be seen as attempts to engage with these high-powered stakeholders by legitimising aspects perceived by the MNCs to be important to the stakeholders. This research found that MNCs attempt to achieve legitimacy through the themes of philanthropy, youth, future development, corporate identity, and culture. Lastly, the research found that while CSR reports appeared to address a diverse range of stakeholders ranging from the government, suppliers, and consumers, their underlying goal was to appease the aforementioned key stakeholders. This study is a response to call for more research in the field of CSR reporting and communication, specifically in Malaysia.