This paper looks at what motivates public sector clients to include CSR in construction procurement and how this impacts contractor behaviour.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) objectives are increasingly becoming an important tendering criterion for UK public sector construction. Nevertheless contractors are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the expectations of public bodies, with CSR remaining an elusive and conflicting concept. However, the client motivation behind the growth of CSR as a procurement criterion remains unexplored. This research aims to understand what motivates public sector clients to include CSR in construction procurement and how this impacts contractor behaviour.

Stakeholder theory is utilised and the CSR definition proposed by Carroll’s CSR pyramid (Carroll 1991) is adopted and used as a marker against contractors’ behaviour. Interviews structured around sensemaking theory (Weick 1995) are conducted with both clients and main contractors providing an insight into the driving forces behind the rise of CSR in procurement. The relativist nature of CSR leads to a confusing array of criteria which serve to further perpetuate contractors struggling to meet client expectations. In stakeholder theory contractors are forced to adopt a classical approach and when viewed against Carroll’s CSR pyramid it is apparent that client initiatives intended to promote CSR actually serve to limit what contractors can achieve. Pragmatically this research assists contractors in better understanding clients procurement needs.



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