Are Codes of Business Ethics Ethical?

Willy Tadjudje, Clément Labi

Abstract


In response to a quickly evolving legal environment and more generally to changing conceptions about the role and responsibilities of the corporation and its executives, many firms have adopted codes of ethics whose legal relevance is uncertain, and whose relation to actual ethics is largely problematic. First, it is necessary to analyze the theoretical model of these codes, as business environments tend to be assessed in terms of “business ethics”, which is conceptually difficult not to discount, since ethics should possess a universalist vocation, hence the necessity to seek whether there could be a variety of ethics which could bear the same validity. More generally, can individuals (or corporations) bestow upon themselves any set of chosen ethical rules? We propose that ethical codes actually mimic and anticipate what legislators or judges have (or will have) considered as ethical behaviors. Since the law is itself an imitation of ethical rules, codes of business ethics are therefore imitations of imitations. The works of Kant and Levinas, in particular, will serve as points of reference.

KEY WORDS: ethics, business ethics, ethical codes, corporate governance



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