M-RCBG Associate Working Paper No. 144

Moral Values and Corporate Social Responsibility

Honorable Mention, 2020 Dunlop Thesis Prize

Luis Viceira



As firms’ impact on society and the environment has increased, so too has interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR), the activities and policies that manage a firm’s responsibilities for and its impacts on society and the environment. This paper studies the effect of the local community’s moral values on the level and focus of firms’ engagement in CSR. To study this connection, I link a county-level measure of moral values (the relative importance of universal versus communal moral values) to firm-level measures of CSR (Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) scores and corporate philanthropy metrics) by using the location of firms’ headquarters. Three main findings emerge. First, I find that firms in more universal counties have higher total ESG scores, environmental scores, and social scores. Second, I find that foundations of firms in more universal counties engage more in philanthropy focused on universal and non-local issues, such as human rights, and less in philanthropy focused on communal and local issues, such as community and economic development. Third, I find that the effect of moral values on the level and focus of CSR is greater for financially successful and consumer-oriented firms. These results are some of the first to establish a connection between moral values and corporate behavior.

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