Organising CSR for Gender Equality: Institutional Work in the Cocoa Value Chain

Lauren McCarthy

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis addresses the burgeoning practice of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes and policies that aim to promote gender equality in global value chains. It first presents a conceptual framework for studying gender change within CSR, conceptualising gender as an institution alongside the theory of institutional work. An embedded case study provides rich empirical data from 3 partnered organisations: a UK chocolate company, a UK NGO, and a Ghanaian cocoa supplier as well as 48 cocoa farmers. Drawing on data spanning 20 years, the study interrogates how gender is translated into ‘engendered’ CSR, and how understandings and experiences of gender may be altered by such practices.
Actors across the three organisations engage in institutional work in an attempt to disrupt the institution of gender. Work includes ‘valorising’ the role of women in the value chain, and ‘legitimising’ this value through a business case. The case illustrates that whilst engendered CSR programmes are successful in securing some women positions of power, they do little to challenge pervasive inequality. Concurrently, actors engage in resistance to institutional work, effectively hindering change. Yet resistance is also productive through ‘questioning work’, leading into another cycle of change.
These findings contribute to our knowledge on how organisational actors may disrupt or maintain institutions by describing the processes of institutional work, its unintended consequences and by highlighting the subjective nature of institutional success and failure. Furthermore, by drawing on Feminist Foucauldian notions of productive power, it is posited that the institutional work required for such ‘big-tent’ institutional change, such as gender, necessitates a closer look at the level of individuals’ sense of self, power and knowledge. Thus we are reminded that CSR, and the actors performing it, are bound up in much larger systems of power relations that are observable right down to individual thought.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Nottingham
  • Moon, Jeremy, Supervisor, External person
  • Muthuri, Judy, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


  • gender
  • CSR
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • sustainability
  • diversity
  • value chains
  • cocoa
  • Ghana
  • institutional work

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