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The behavioural effects of corporate ethical codes: Empirical findings and discussion

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Abstract:

The use of corporate ethical codes has been increasing. It is argued that the use of ethical codes solely as an instrument in a company’s image management is morally questionable. Therefore, the introduction and use of ethical codes must have the intention of achieving behavioural change or the maintenance of already superior behaviour. This change or superior behaviour may apply to ethics in general, but also to the different sub‐structures of ethics, namely the areas of reliability ethics, human ethics, capability ethics and future ethics. Previous research has, with some exceptions, failed to demonstrate that the introduction of ethical codes has had any behavioural effect. A survey study of Norwegian professionals (N=449) in business is reported here. Using the flexibility that a multivariate analysis provides, the existence or non‐existence of ethical codes, and their influence on attitudinal differences across the four ethical sub‐structures is tested. In the following discussion, three lines of argument are used, drawing on logical, social and managerial approaches, to explain why the codes do exist and yet do not seem to influence the members of a business organisation. Finally, the paper suggests some implications for business practice and for future research.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8608.00191

Affiliations: Associate Professor at the Norwegian School of Hotel Management, Stavanger, Norway

Publication date: 2000-07-01

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