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When Corporate Social Responsibility Backfires: Theory and Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment

John List () and Fatemeh Momeni

Natural Field Experiments from The Field Experiments Website

Abstract: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a cornerstone of modern business practice, developing from a "why" in the 1960s to a "must" today. Early empirical evidence on both the demand and supply sides has largely confirmed CSR's efficacy. This paper combines theory with a large-scale natural field experiment to connect CSR to an important but often neglected behavior: employee misconduct and shirking. Through employing more than 3,000 workers, we find that our usage of CSR increases employee misbehavior - 20% more employees act detrimentally toward our firm by shirking on their primary job duty when we introduce CSR. Complementary treatments suggest that "moral licensing" is at work, in that the "doing good" nature of CSR induces workers to misbehave on another dimension that hurts the firm. In this way, our data highlight a potential dark cloud of CSR, and serve to forewarn that such business practices should not be blindly applied.

New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-exp and nep-hrm
Date: 2017
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