By Margaret E. Ormiston and Elaine M. Wong
Volume 66, Issue 4, pages 861–893, Winter 2013
Although managers and researchers have invested considerable effort into understanding corporate social responsibility (CSR), less is known about corporate social irresponsibility (CSiR). Drawing on strategic leadership and moral licensing research, we address this gap by considering the relationship between CSR and CSiR. We predict that prior CSR is positively associated with subsequent CSiR because the moral credits achieved through CSR enable leaders to engage in less ethical stakeholder treatment. Further, we hypothesize that leaders’ moral identity symbolization, or the degree to which being moral is expressed outwardly to the public through actions and behavior, will moderate the CSR–CSiR relationship, such that the relationship will be stronger when CEOs are high on moral identity symbolization rather than low on moral identity symbolization. Through an archival study of 49 Fortune 500 firms, we find support for our hypotheses.
Although moral licensing research has found that individuals are generally inclined to engage in morally questionable behavior after having engaged in socially desirable behavior, this process runs counter to the fundamental psychological finding that people desire consistency in their beliefs and behaviors (Audia, Locke, & Smith, 2000; Bem, 1972; Festinger, 1957). Thus, recent calls to examine when licensing occurs and whether some people remain consistent in their moral behavior across time have been issued (Merritt, Effron, & Monin, 2010). In other words, it is important to understand when inconsistency trumps people's basic desire for consistency. Some boundary conditions to moral licensing have been suggested, with Mulder and Aquino (in press), for instance, proposing that an individual difference, moral identity, influences the consistency of moral behavior across time.
The entire article is here.