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License to Ill: The Effects of Corporate Social Responsibility and CEO Moral Identity on Corporate Social Irresponsibility


  • We would like to thank Frederick Morgeson and two anonymous reviewers for their guidance and constructive comments. We also received helpful suggestions from Gabrielle Adams, Karl Aquino, Daniel Cable, Michael Haselhuhn, Gillian Ku, and gratefully acknowledge the many research assistants whose careful coding made these data possible.


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.

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