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Abstract

Research has highlighted a growing gap between public perceptions of farming and the realities of modern agriculture and the food industry. A number of food scandals have exacerbated consumers’ critical perceptions of the agribusiness sector. This can threaten the reputation and legitimacy of companies. For this reason, companies in the food industry strive to meet the expectations of society in order to safeguard their future license to operate. One proactive means of doing this is for a firm to make an active commitment to society and the environment; this commitment is known as corporate social responsibility (CSR). Arguing that consumers are a firm’s most important stakeholders and referring to Carroll’s distinction between economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic responsibility, this paper seeks to empirically measure consumers’ attitudes towards the CSR commitment of agribusiness companies. The results do not confirm Carroll’s distinction between four responsibility classes; instead, they show that consumers distinguish between a firm’s economic, internal and external responsibilities. Furthermore, political support of a company’s CSR has a positive influence on consumers’ attitude towards that firm’s commitment. Other positive influences are the respondent’s age, buying behavior with regard to organic products and CSR knowledge. These results improve our understanding of what drives public perceptions of firm behavior and have interesting implications for agribusiness firms designing and implementing their CSR strategies.

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