Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 27-43

First online:

A Code of Ethics for CorporateCode of Ethics

  • Mark S. Schwartz

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Are corporate codes of ethics necessarily ethical? To challenge this notion, an initial set of universal moral standards is proposed by which all corporate codes of ethics can be ethically evaluated. The set of universal moral standards includes: (1) trustworthiness; (2) respect; (3) responsibility; (4) fairness; (5) caring; and (6) citizenship. By applying the six moral standards to four different stages of code development (i.e., content, creation, implementation, administration), a code of ethics for corporate codes of ethics is constructed by which companies can be ethically audited for compliance. The newly proposed code of ethics for corporate codes of ethics was then applied to four large Canadian companies representing a variety of industries: telecommunications; banking, manufacturing, and high technology. The ethical audit of the four companies' ethics programs based on the proposed code indicates that all four companies have room to improve the ethical nature of their codes of ethics (i.e., content, creation, implementation, administration).

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