Document Type



Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence




Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate industry expert discourses on aspirational corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication. Analysing CSR managers’ and communication consultants’ talk about aspirational talk as constitutive of aspirational CSR communication, the data provide valuable insights into the dominant discourses, and draw attention to the manifold elements in the process of aspirational CSR communication. Design/methodology/approach – Data gathered during 11 in-depth, qualitative interviews with food industry experts in CSR and CSR communication roles in Ireland, the UK and the USA are studied. Findings – The analysis of industry expert discourses suggests that communicating CSR, and in particular the communication of CSR aspirations, is a source of tensions and ambiguity for organisational members. It is evident that aspirational talk acts as a “commitment and alignment device”, raising the bar for the organisation by encouraging enhanced performance and ensuring a competitive differentiation – and thus revealing a performative character. However, it is also shown that industry experts favour action over talk and consider verification crucial to reduce reputational risk. The challenge ahead will be to encourage organisations to embrace aspirational talk in the age of CSR professionalisation and standardisation to ensure incremental and continual CSR improvements. Practical implications – The research findings suggest that aspirational talk is a useful resource for organisations to transition towards becoming more responsible businesses. Rather than censoring aspirational talk to prevent scepticism by some, managers rely on robust auditing and verification systems to provide proof of achievement over time. Originality/value – The study provides data on the topic of aspirational talk, where there has been much theory development, but limited empirical evidence. It does so in the context of the food industry, an industry manifestly to the forefront in the sustainability/CSR agenda.