Can corporate codes of ethics influence behavior?


There is increasing public interest in understanding the nature of corporate ethics due to the knowledge that unethical decisions and activities frequently undermine the performance and abilities of many organizations. Of the current literature found on the topic of ways organizations can influence ethical behavior, a majority is found on the issue of corporate codes of ethics.

Most discussions on codes of ethics evaluate the contents of the codes and offer opinions on their wording, content, and/or value. Unfortunately, very little research has been devoted towards discovering whether they are effective in promoting ethical decision-making behavior. Thus, due to the lack of empirical research on this particular topic, this paper attempts to further address this issue.

Data was obtained through the use of a fifteen-item questionnaire, in which seven of the items were scenarios on the topic of ethical behavior, and the remaining eight questions were concerned with demographic information. The survey was administered to 150 business students at a large university.

The results indicated that corporate codes of ethics are not influential in determining a person's ethical decision-making behavior.

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Cleek, M.A., Leonard, S.L. Can corporate codes of ethics influence behavior?. Journal of Business Ethics 17, 619–630 (1998).

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