The influence of non-governmental organisations on a multinational company's corporate social responsibility approach during a crisis

  • Malte Busch

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The purpose of this thesis is to investigate and understand the direct and indirect influence of German non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the corporate social responsibility (CSR) approach of the Volkswagen Group (VWG) within the German institutional framework in the context of a crisis. It builds on previous studies that identified gaps in the understanding of NGO influence and the role of contextual factors.

    This research applied a qualitative methodology with semi-structured interviews as the main method of data collection. The case-study approach has been chosen as a methodological strategy to analyse the direct and indirect influence of six NGOs on the German multinational corporation (MNC) VWG within the context of the emissions crisis. For this study, 34 semi-structured interviews were conducted with NGOs, one of VWG’s CSR representatives, employees, suppliers, CSR and automotive experts, and representatives of German political institutions.

    The findings of this study not only explain the trajectory of an unfolding scandal but also the effects those events may have in reconfiguring the role and influence of key stakeholders. It shows that current stakeholder conceptions must be reassessed regarding the role of NGOs and political actors. The results reveal that the strong intertwining between German policy makers and VWG is a determinant that limits NGO influence, which leads to conditional direct and conditional indirect influence on VWG via policy makers. The findings indicate that the coercive stakeholder pressure instrument ‘lawsuit’ is a means of unconditional indirect influence with which NGOs successfully operate to exert influence. It also illustrates that the simultaneous and successive use of the multiplicity of direct and indirect influence instruments can lead to effective influence on an MNC’s CSR approach.

    This work builds on stakeholder theories and CSR concepts and contributes to the stakeholder literature by expanding our collective understanding of the direct and indirect influence of a particular stakeholder group (NGOs) on the CSR approach of an MNC. Moreover, this thesis contributes to the NGO influence debate by putting an emphasis on the perspective of NGOs. This thesis also intends to contribute to management practices by providing a better understanding of how MNCs may use existing stakeholder models more effectively to engage in effective dialogues with NGOs.
    Date of AwardSept 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorJason Begley (Supervisor), Andrew Perchard (Supervisor) & Lyndon Simkin (Supervisor)


    • stakeholder theory
    • NGO influence
    • direct and indirect influence
    • CSR approach
    • automotive industry

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