CSR, moral licensing and organizational misconduct: a conceptual review

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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to conceptualize how past corporate social responsibility (CSR) affects the occurrence of organizational misconduct by the means of moral licensing. Design/methodology/approach: To this end, the authors conduct a conceptual review and develop a framework illustrating how moral credits and moral credentials (moral licensing) may institutionalize irresponsibility and lead to subsequent misconduct. Findings: The authors propose a conceptual framework that describes the relationship between past CSR and organizational misconduct by the means of moral licensing. Based on initial literature-based findings, this paper provides confirmatory evidence for the authors’ framework and illustrates that past CSR might be used as a moral licensing tool that eventually fosters the occurrence of organizational misconduct. Research limitations/implications: The authors propose future researchers account for the moral licensing effect when examining the antecedents of misconduct and explore the potential moderators of this effect. Practical implications: The authors recommend that organizations establish management control systems that specifically address the issue of moral licensing when evaluating CSR initiatives. The authors also propose that organizations should adhere to a consistent CSR strategy that potentially fosters the selection of moral leaders who are not prone to moral licensing. Originality/value: To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this paper is the first to connect corporate social responsibility, moral licensing and organizational misconduct from a conceptual perspective.

Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganization Management Journal
Number of pages12
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © 2022, Yassin Denis Bouzzine and Rainer Lueg.

    Research areas

  • CSR, Institutional theory, Management control, Moral licensing, Organizational misconduct
  • Management studies