CSR’s the Word
9 April 2014 at 9:14 am
The language spoken by senior management at a company could influence its Corporate Social Responsibility practices, new research suggests.
Academics looked at the constructions in language used to describe future actions, and found that, where there was no separation between present and future events, the psychological importance of the future increased and the more socially responsible a company was.
Corporations in countries with a language structure that distinguished the future scored 26 per cent lower on CSR values than those where language structure did not make the distinction.
CSR scores differed by language even within the same country in some cases, according to the study, authored by Harvard Business School Associate Professor Christopher Marquis, Liang and Luc Renneboog of Tilburg University, and Sunny Li Sun of the University of Missouri.
“Decades of research on global corporate social responsibility (CSR) have shown it to vary significantly across countries, and that it is strongly influenced by the cultural and socio-economic environments in which firms operate,” the report said.
“Research in linguistics and economics has shown that one of the most important factors that shapes culture and creates variation across countries is spoken language.”
Some languages, such as English, Spanish, Arabic, and Korean, require speakers to use a completely different structure to speak of the future, while in other languages, such as German, Swedish, Chinese, and Indonesian, speakers use essentially the same structure.
Linguistics research has shown that where the present and the future are in different conceptual categories,the psychological importance of—and hence a person’s concern for—the future is reduced.
The research drew on a previous study which showed that speakers of languages with weaker distinction of the future tended to focus less on the future when it came to other future-focused activities like saving money, safe sex or dieting.
However, the research found that the impact of language on CSR was lessened where companies were headquartered in countries with higher degree of globalisation, had a higher degree of internationalisation, or had a CEO with more international experience.
“Companies headquartered in a more globalized environment are more exposed to a multilingual environment with business partners in different countries. Such multilingual environment makes a manager more flexible to change the perceptual categories and attention on CSR than the single language environment does,” the report said.
The research examined rankings of 1,500 companies from 1999 to 2011 in MSCI's Intangible Value Assessment, and sustainability data from the Vigeo Sustainable Country Ratings.
Rankings were then compared with the company’s official language and whether that language had a strong or weak orientation toward the future.
Read the full report here.