An ethical perspective of business CSR and the COVID-19 pandemic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to focus on business responses to the pandemic through an ethical lens and to make recommendations for future research in this unique environment. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic presents many ethical implications for businesses’ responses in balancing individual health and firm risks during the initial and recovery stages. What decisions are businesses making in this pandemic environment? What ethical foundations most align with these decisions? Design/methodology/approach: The authors review recent business actions taken in response to the pandemic in light of models of motivation for corporate social responsibility (CSR). Findings: Businesses have engaged in a wide range of philanthropic CSR actions during the pandemic, likely motivated by both utilitarianism and deontological factors in response to the needs of internal and external stakeholders. The pandemic has disparate impacts, generally hurting lower-income individuals more, likely increasing inequality. Research limitations/implications: There are many questions for future research to determine where pandemic-related CSR has different effects for businesses over the long term compared to the pre-pandemic environment. Social implications: Businesses must act to benefit society, protect employees and maintain the trust of their stakeholders during the pandemic. Originality/value: Existing models have examined corporate disaster philanthropic responses that were localized and acute. Business responses to the COVID-19 virus are unique given the severity, the widespread nature and the duration of the crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-253
Number of pages19
JournalSociety and Business Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 20 2020


  • Business ethics
  • COVID-19
  • Corporate philanthropy
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Inequality
  • Pandemic


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