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  Opportunistic CSR and CSR Decoupling: Measurement, Motives, and Consequences

   Faculty of Business and Law

  Dr Ahmed Aboud,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3 year full-time or 6 year part-time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance and will be supervised by Dr Ahmed Aboud and Dr Xing Huang.

The work on this project will: 

  • The measurement and alternative dimensions of opportunistic CSR decoupling 
  • The management incentives for opportunistic CSR and CSR decoupling.
  • The consequences of opportunistic CSR and CSR decoupling.
  • The role of formal and informal institutions in shaping opportunistic CSR and CSR decoupling such as Enforcement, Social Capital and Culture.
  • Cross-country evidence on opportunistic CSR and CSR decoupling
  • The impact of COVID-19 on opportunistic CSR.

Project description

Despite the growing literature in accounting and finance that addresses the opportunistic behaviour in the context of financial information, there is limited evidence on opportunistic approach in non-financial information including corporate social responsibility. As Gonçalves et al. (2020) suggested, most of the existing literature does not distinguish between committed reporting from opportunistic CSR. Extant literature provides evidence on the unethical behaviour by firms by showing that firms engaging in disclosing social responsibility are not necessarily companies that carry out ethical responsibilities in their business practices, with several involved in financial and tax evasion scandals. Their findings support the notion that managers can use social responsibility disclosure as a tool to cover other corporate social irresponsible practices. Recently, few studies have started addressing ESG decoupling as an illustration of opportunistic CSR with several dimensions and proxies deployed in the extant studies. The term decoupling in organisation studies refers to the loose coupling between policies and organisational actions that challenges the traditional approach of tight integration (Weick, 1976). While ESG disclosure of a firm is assumed to truly and fairly represent its ESG performance, corporate managers may engage in deceitful behavior to decouple ESG performance and disclosure for signaling purposes to respond to the contradictory requirements and pressures of different groups of stakeholders (Cho et al., 2015; Luo et al., 2017). 

Despite longstanding calls to study decoupling in the area of ESG (Adams, 2008), there remains little evidence on how and why ESG decoupling occurs. Few studies examine incentives and determinants of ESG decoupling. On the one hand, CEO power (Shahab et al., 2021), CEO overconfidence (Sauerwald and Su, 2019), institutional voids (Tashman et al., 2019), and employees’ visionary procrastination (Sendlhofer, 2020) are found to be incentives to ESG decoupling. On the other hand, analyst coverage (Zhang, 2021), high-quality CSR policies and programmes (Graafland and Smid, 2019) are mitigating factors of ESG decoupling. Surprisingly, assurance of corporate social responsibility reports is found to have no impact on ESG decoupling (García‐Sánchez et al., 2022). Furthermore, we still know very little about the consequences of ESG decoupling and how market reacts to such behavior. 

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic adds another ethical lens on how the motives of management to engage in ESG decoupling with an increasing level of governments’ and stakeholders’ devotion to ESG issues in the post-COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, the environment in which firms’ management decides whether to engage in ESG decoupling has changed dramatically, with far greater uncertainty during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

General admissions criteria

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognized university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in Accounting or a related area. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

How to Apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Ahmed Aboud () to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Accounting PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

Please also include a research proposal of 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design – including how it meets the stated objectives, the challenges this project may present, and how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field. 

When applying please quote project code:AE&F4971024

Business & Management (5) Economics (10) Finance (14)

Funding Notes

Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (conditions apply).

Register your interest for this project

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