This paper provides a multi-level theoretical model to understand why business organizations are increasingly engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, and thereby exhibiting the potential to exert positive social change. Our model integrates theories of micro-level organizational justice, meso-level corporate governance and macro-level varieties of capitalisms. Using a theoretical framework presented in the justice literature, we argue that organizations are pressured to engage in CSR by many different actors, each driven by instrumental, relational and moral motives. These actors are nested within four “levels” of analysis: individual, organizational, national and transnational. After discussing the motives affecting actors at each level and the mechanisms used at each level to exercise influence, as well as the interactions of motives within levels, we examine forces across levels to propose the complex web of factors, which both facilitate and impede social change by organizations. Ultimately, this proposed framework can be used to systematize our understanding of the complex social phenomenon of increasing CSR engagement, and to develop testable hypotheses. We conclude by highlighting some empirical questions for future research, and develop a number of managerial implications.
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