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Curves in the high road A historical analysis of the development of American business codes of ethics

Curves in the high road A historical analysis of the development of American business codes of... Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to trace a history of American codes of business ethics as they evolved from religious bases to legalistic bases to an international emphasis. Design/methodology/approach – The paper describes the evolution of business codes of ethics over the twentieth century in relation to the development of social issues. Findings – It is found that ethical codes are influenced by the prevailing ideology of the time regarding the social responsibility of business. The earlier part of the twentieth century emphasized religious values governing the treatment of customers and competitors and the responsibility of businesses for the well‐being of their employees by directing their private as well as business conduct. The latter part of the twentieth century stressed legal compliance as government regulation sought to control business behaviors that were harmful to society and to the environment. Entering into the twenty‐first century, we are seeing an increase in international emphases in codes of ethics. We discuss these trends in terms of evolving approaches to corporate social responsibility. Practical implications – Organizations writing (and rewriting) codes of ethics should move beyond reactive legal compliance and proactively examine values associated with their stakeholder relationships as well as relationships to corporate social responsibility issues. Originality/value – While there have been histories of medical and legal codes of ethics, to the authors' knowledge, this is the first exploration of a history of American business codes of ethics. The paper examines the development of codes of ethics in the context of business needs and social values prominent during those times. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Management History Emerald Publishing

Curves in the high road A historical analysis of the development of American business codes of ethics

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Publisher
Emerald Publishing
Copyright
Copyright © 2007 Emerald Group Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.
ISSN
1751-1348
DOI
10.1108/17511340710715197
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to trace a history of American codes of business ethics as they evolved from religious bases to legalistic bases to an international emphasis. Design/methodology/approach – The paper describes the evolution of business codes of ethics over the twentieth century in relation to the development of social issues. Findings – It is found that ethical codes are influenced by the prevailing ideology of the time regarding the social responsibility of business. The earlier part of the twentieth century emphasized religious values governing the treatment of customers and competitors and the responsibility of businesses for the well‐being of their employees by directing their private as well as business conduct. The latter part of the twentieth century stressed legal compliance as government regulation sought to control business behaviors that were harmful to society and to the environment. Entering into the twenty‐first century, we are seeing an increase in international emphases in codes of ethics. We discuss these trends in terms of evolving approaches to corporate social responsibility. Practical implications – Organizations writing (and rewriting) codes of ethics should move beyond reactive legal compliance and proactively examine values associated with their stakeholder relationships as well as relationships to corporate social responsibility issues. Originality/value – While there have been histories of medical and legal codes of ethics, to the authors' knowledge, this is the first exploration of a history of American business codes of ethics. The paper examines the development of codes of ethics in the context of business needs and social values prominent during those times.

Journal

Journal of Management HistoryEmerald Publishing

Published: Jan 16, 2007

Keywords: Business ethics; History; Corporate social responsibility; United States of America

References