Flying responsibly? An analysis of the self-reported corporate social responsibility of European airlines
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I plain to write 3 papers and a book proposal
The aim of this PhD research project was to critically examine the self-reported socially-responsible activities of European full-service and low-fares airlines. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a concept that has been described using many terms and with varying definitions. Broadly, it is the recognition that businesses should voluntarily mitigate and manage their externalities. CSR has been touted by businesses and governments alike as a preferred alternative to regulation. This research looked at the self-reported CSR approaches of the European airline sector, which has historically been heavily regulated and is currently facing increasing pressures regarding its impacts on CSR- and sustainability-related concerns. Low cost carriers have been under particular scrutiny for their impacts, and therefore, this research compared the CSR approaches of the two dominant airline business models in Europe: low cost and full service models. The sample consisted of 21 full service and 13 low cost carriers with headquarters in Europe. Mixed qualitative methods were applied to 566 secondary documents (websites, press releases, annual reports, and standalone CSR reports) and 15 elite interviews with airline managers. A range of established CSR indicators were assessed, including: definitions, reported practices, motivations and justifications for CSR activities, and CSR management and monitoring. Much of what the airlines reported as their CSR was at odds with academic and governmental definitions; as a whole, they placed considerable emphasis on environmental issues and adhering to regulations. This study also found that the CSR practices were closely correlated with business practices and key sector issues – an understanding of CSR that is most compatible with stakeholder theory-based conceptualisations. Business models on their own were found to be an overly-simplistic explanation for the wide variances of practice that were found in the sample. Instead, four ‘profiles of responsibility’ were identified, which better captured the differences in practices.
PhD in Management Studies