Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 115-126

First online:

The effectiveness of a complaint-based ethics enforcement system: Evidence from the accounting profession

  • S. Douglas BeetsAffiliated withSchool of Business and Accountancy, Wake Forest University
  • , Larry N. KilloughAffiliated withDept. of Accounting, The R.B. Pamplin College of Business, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Many professions, in order to enforce their ethics codes, rely on a complaint-based system, whereby persons who observe or discover ethics violations may file a complaint with an authoritative body. The authors assume that this type of system may encourage ethical behavior when practitioners believe that a punishment is likely to result from a failure to adhere to the rules. This perceived likelihood of punishment has three components: detection risk, reporting risk, and sanction risk. A survey of potential violation witnesses related to the accounting profession revealed that the profession's complaint-based enforcement system may not provide practitioners with the necessary disincentive to refrain from code violations.