AIRLINE PHILANTHROPY – INVESTMENT OR EXPENSE?

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Deborah Ancell

Keywords

corporate social and environmental responsibility, CSER, CSR, philanthropy, costs

Abstract

Airlines are corporately socially and environmentally responsible (CSER). Unlike predecessor ‘CSR’, CSER acknowledges the importance of the environment. CSER-managed airlines obey the law, service customers safely, manage employees fairly, reward owners appropriately, pay suppliers promptly and mitigate environmental impacts. Unlike philanthropy (i.e. CSERplus), airlines’ CSER-management is underpinned by economics – the optimal allocation of resources. External pressures push airlines to go beyond economically-viable, strategic investments to make philanthropic donations which are voluntary, discretionary contributions purportedly to further their interests. If the CSERplus philanthropic contributions are non-strategic they could increase costs without any benefit. Husted and Salazar (2006) determined three motivations for corporate entities to engage in strategic CSERplus (philanthropic) activities: either to (a) prevent unfavourable government intervention (b) create product differentiation to increase sales or (c) trigger cost reductions. Content and theme analysis of the top 10 airlines’ CSER reports indicated that none of the three motivations applied to their philanthropic contributions. Philanthropy appeared to support the altruistic or egoistic interests of managers rather than the airlines. There were no success measures. In fact, philanthropic donations appeared to increase costs at a time when many airlines were reducing services and products to remain competitive. The conclusion is that airline philanthropy is an expense rather than an investment. This paper contributes to the paucity of current literature on philanthropic motivations and airline CSER management.

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