Moral licensing and corporate social responsibility: A systematic literature review and a research agenda

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Moral licensing describes people’s sense of ethical entitlement to morally questionable behavior after they have previously exhibited socially desired behavior. The objective of this review is to examine the concept of moral licensing in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) literature. To this end, we conducted a systematic literature review (SLR) covering the period from 2012 to 2021. First, our research explains why moral licensing is defined differently across CSR contexts. Second, we illustrate how CSR practices precede moral licensing and misconduct among top executives and employees (List & Momeni, 2021; Ormiston & Wong, 2013). Third, findings suggest that currently underexplored variables moderate the relationship between CSR and moral licensing, including the moral identity symbolization of CEOs and the style of CSR communication. Fourth, we suggest that very few studies have addressed these potentially negative effects of CSR. In conclusion, this review offers an initial overview on moral licensing, examines implications for practice, proposes extensions to existing theory, and sets an agenda for future research.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Governance and Regulation
Issue number1, special issue
Pages (from-to)296-302
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 03.2022

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