Are Socially Responsible Firms Associated with Socially Responsible Citizens? A Study of Social Distancing During the Covid-19 Pandemic

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The literature on the interplay between geographic communities and organizations has largely ignored the role of individual residents. In adopting a meso-perspective, we examine a potentially vital relationship between corporate conduct and pro-social behavior demanding sacrifice from individuals. Drawing on Weber (Economy and society: an outline of interpretive sociology. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1978 (Translation of Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, Grundriss der verstehenden Soziologie, 1922)), we theorize that organizations in a community legitimize personal social conduct in three ways—by serving as role models, imparting norms and values, and routinizing forms of interaction. We study the relationship between corporate social responsibility (CSR) behavior by local firms and the social distancing (SD) of citizens in US counties during the Covid-19 pandemic, a core ethical outcome. We argue and find that the residents of communities in which firms exhibit higher levels of CSR engaged in more SD during the Covid-19 pandemic. This was true when firms were (a) long-established, (b) isomorphic in their CSR, and (c) major employers and vendors. Moreover, CSR relating to the treatment of employees as well as positive and negative extremes in CSR bore especially strong relationships with SD. Implications are drawn for the study of business ethics, as modeled by CSR, as a force for ethical personal behavior and public health in communities.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Journal of Business Ethics