Corporate Codes of Ethics and the Bending of Moral Space

Topics: Ethics, Morality, Business ethics Pages: 27 (7902 words) Published: October 19, 2013
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Corporate Codes of Ethics and the Bending of Moral Space
Tommy Jensen, Johan Sandström and Sven Helin
Organization 2009 16: 529
DOI: 10.1177/1350508409104507
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Volume 16(4): 529–545
ISSN 1350–5084
Copyright © The Author(s), 2009.
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Corporate Codes of Ethics and
the Bending of Moral Space
Tommy Jensen
Umeå School of Business, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

Johan Sandström
Swedish Business School, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden

Sven Helin
Swedish Business School, Örebro University, Örebro, Sweden

Abstract. What happens when corporate codes of ethics (CCEs) ‘go to work’, and how do they influence moral practice? Even though previous research has posed these or similar questions, the role and the effect of the CCE are still dubious. In this article, it is argued that this is predominantly because previous research is fixed in a position in which CCEs are passive artefacts with no capability of bending space, and in which agency and morality are limited to the human sphere only. An approach to the study and understanding of CCEs in which the travel of the CCE is made the focus of the research is therefore developed. The code comes alive in a heterogeneous materiality, travelling as a result of a wide range of translations, and granted an epistemological capability of influencing humans’ world-views and moral practices. The approach is illustrated with a case study on CCE-implementation and it is concluded that through generating more accounts like this, researchers and practitioners are not only in a better position to understand how CCEs ‘go to work’, but also in a better position to shoulder moral responsibility. Key words. actor-network theory; code; ethics; morality; translation

DOI: 10.1177/1350508409104507

http://org.sagepub.com

Organization 16(4)
Articles
This article is about the study and understanding of corporate codes of ethics (CCEs). According to Schwartz (2001: 248), a corporate code can be defined as a ‘written, distinct and formal document which consists of moral standards used to guide employees or corporate behavior’ and CCEs have become one of the more widespread tools that companies rely on in their corporate responsibility work (Kaptein, 2004). However, CCEs are not a recent fad in the business community, but rather have a long history, reminding us ‘that the established, capitalist system of economic organization throws up moral problems that it has difficulty resolving because it is corrosive of relationships that are regulated by morality rather than the cash nexus’ (Willmott, 1998: 82).

In previous research on CCEs, as reported elsewhere (Helin and Sandström, 2007), the golden question has been whether or not these codes are effective. That is, do members of an organization, as a result of working with a code, develop a better moral practice or is the code merely a rhetorical device? Some studies identify positive effects on moral practice (Boo and Koh, 2001; Kaptein and Wempe, 1998; Stohs and Brannick, 1999), whereas others see the code as playing a mere symbolic role (Adams et al., 2001), as mere window-dressing (McKendall et al., 2002), constituting an important symbolic artefact (Stevens, 2004). Empirical research remains inconclusive...


Citations: http://org.sagepub.com/content/16/4/529.refs.html
>> Version of Record - Jun 16, 2009
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Downloaded from org.sagepub.com at Bradford College on October 10, 2013
Copyright © The Author(s), 2009.
ethics (CCEs). According to Schwartz (2001: 248), a corporate code can
be defined as a ‘written, distinct and formal document which consists of
their corporate responsibility work (Kaptein, 2004). However, CCEs are
not a recent fad in the business community, but rather have a long history, reminding us ‘that the established, capitalist system of economic
than the cash nexus’ (Willmott, 1998: 82).
In previous research on CCEs, as reported elsewhere (Helin and
Sandström, 2007), the golden question has been whether or not these
a rhetorical device? Some studies identify positive effects on moral practice (Boo and Koh, 2001; Kaptein and Wempe, 1998; Stohs and Brannick,
1999), whereas others see the code as playing a mere symbolic role (Adams
et al., 2001), as mere window-dressing (McKendall et al., 2002), constituting
an important symbolic artefact (Stevens, 2004)
inconclusive regarding the effect on moral practice (Schwartz, 2001, 2004),
and has yet to take into account the capability of the CCE to influence
Previous research has also given scarce attention to what actually happens when a code is used. The code is cornered as ‘a vehicle for bringing
ethical norms’ (Cassell et al., 1997), ‘an instituted form’ (Nicholson, 1994),
or ‘an ethical artefact’ (Dillard and Yuthas, 2002). In general, it is understood
and treated as a passive artefact that people in the organization pay attention to or not, depending on their different rationales and reasons
Theory (ANT), especially its ‘and after’ (Callon, 1998; Law, 2004; Law and
530
Hassard, 1999; Law and Mol, 2002) and from writers dealing with morality
and organization (Bauman, 1989; Jones, 2003; McMahon, 1995; Roberts,
2003; ten Bos, 2003).
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