The growth of borderless Europe, the globalisation of business activities; the rise of the civil society pressure groups and the growing awareness of the impact of business on the environment by consumers via the internet, have all combined to increase the competitive and stakeholder pressure on companies of all sizes to be sustainable and to incorporate CSR initiatives into their ‘DNA’.
But little research has provided clear evidence on if and how companies benefit from these initiatives within the internationalization context. Further, there has been little focus on what kind of internal processes and factors related to CSR initiatives might increase international competitiveness, especially for SMEs.
An initial literature review has clearly indicated that although the literature on CSR practices and SMEs has been growing over the last years, the knowledge is still fragmented and there is a need for more research investigating relationship between CSR practices and competitiveness of SMEs especially in the relation to their international activities. Based on this rational the objective of the project was to explore the benefits of responsible business practice for European SMEs in terms of their competitiveness and overall performance within the internationalization context.
The agro-food sector was selected for this investigation for various reasons. First of all, it is one of the strongest sectors in the participating countries and is vital to the country’s economy and employment. The second reason to focus research on agri-food industry was that companies representing this sector are continually under intense scrutiny by society and increasingly interested in improvement of their business practises, as it was identified above.
In order to gather qualitative data about CSR-related practises, internalisation of SMEs and the interrelation between these two elements the project team consisting of lecturers representing Rotterdam Business School, ISM Vilnius, NEOMA Business School and Faculty of Economics & Business, University of Zagreb has decided to use the case study research method, which allowed to gain particular understanding and insight into each SME and provide answers to the research questions.
Saulius Buivys, Lecture-researcher,
ReBuSME project leader
Ron Ainsbury, Research Professor
Biljana Pesalj, Lecture-researcher
Marko Korac, Lecture-researcher
To ensure comparability of the case-companies set of company selection criteria were agreed: SME as defined by EU, working in food industry with international activities or a clearly expressed aspiration to be involved international activities.
Student teams in four countries (Netherlands, Lithuanian, France and Crotia) were briefed and trained how to diagnose CSR practices and internationalisation in the companies, and were asked to conduct an independent interviews by using researched guide. As a result of these interviews 19 cases studied capturing the stories of a companies over time were written and presented in the book ReBuSME: 19 case studies on corporate social responsibility
Cranfield University, UK
Bain & Company, UK
CSR Netherlands, NL
Nijenrode Business University, NL
Arjen van Klink,
Programme in Rotterdam
While the students invested significant time in conducting interviews and writing up the case stories of their target companies the thrust of the Erasmus Lifelong Learning programme is in the two-week intensive concluding event which was held in Rotterdam.
In designing the content of the two weeks care was taken to achieve several objectives within the time allowed:
- The opportunity for students to present and share their findings to fellow students from other countries
- Sufficient time for all students to analyse, compare, contrast, and draw out conclusions – disparities, similarities, lessons
- Tackle a “live” problem related to “The role of responsible business practice in enhancing the international competitiveness of European SMEs” and test students’ ability to work under time pressure and in a multi-cultural group
- Attend lectures on a range of specialized topics provided by participating university lecturers and guest lecturers.
In addition, we wanted all students to learn something about the Port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port through which many of the exports of internationalised SMEs might flow and to have the opportunity to develop relationships that might be the basis of future cross-cultural business networks.
A superficial review of these 19 cases might lead the casual reader to conclude that these companies have little in common – despite being in the same industry. This is not surprising given that two of the countries are founding members of the European Union and have highly-developed economies while the other two have fairly recently become EU members and are still regarded as having developing economies.
While the focus has been on the food processing industry there is a wide variety of companies within the 19:
- from beverages (both alcoholic and not), to cheese, confectionary, and processed meats
- producers and retailers
- locally-grown product and product based on imported raw materials.
- family-owned and have been around for generations while others are part of a larger group, and several are recent start-ups.
In direct questioning almost none of the SMEs had a structured approach to CSR – yet many were engaging in a range of CSR activities. This finding reflects other surveys of SMEs conducted which have found that many SMEs do not consider the activities that they undertake as CSR – but just good business practice.