Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 138, Issue 1, pp 53–66 | Cite as

Code of Ethics: A Stratified Vehicle for Compliance



Ethical codes have been hailed as an explicit vehicle for achieving more sustainable and defensible organizational practice. Nonetheless, when legal compliance and corporate governance codes are conflated, codes can be used to define organizational interests ostentatiously by stipulating norms for employee ethics. Such codes have a largely cosmetic and insurance function, acting subtly and strategically to control organizational risk management and protection. In this paper, we conduct a genealogical discourse analysis of a representative code of ethics from an international corporation to understand how management frames expectations of compliance. Our contribution is to articulate the problems inherent in codes of ethics, and we make some recommendations to address these to benefit both an organization and its employees. In this way, we show how a code of ethics can provide a foundation for ethical sustainability, while addressing management intentions and employees’ ethical satisfaction.


Code of ethics Organizational risk management Business ethics Power relationships Governance Domination Genealogical discourse analysis 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Management & Organization Studies (CMOS)University of TechnologySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Universidade Nova de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.Copenhagen Business SchoolFrederiksbergDenmark
  4. 4.EM-LyonÉcullyFrance

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