Code of ethics: A stratified vehicle for compliance

Jennifer Adelstein, Stewart Clegg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Ethical codes have been hailed as an explicit vehicle for achieving more sustainable and defensible organizational practice. Nonetheless, when legal compliance and corporate governance codes are conflated, codes can be used to define organizational interests ostentatiously by stipulating norms for employee ethics. Such codes have a largely cosmetic and insurance function, acting subtly and strategically to control organizational risk management and protection. In this paper, we conduct a genealogical discourse analysis of a representative code of ethics from an international corporation to understand how management frames expectations of compliance. Our contribution is to articulate the problems inherent in codes of ethics, and we make some recommendations to address these to benefit both an organization and its employees. In this way, we show how a code of ethics can provide a foundation for ethical sustainability, while addressing management intentions and employees’ ethical satisfaction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-66
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016


  • Business ethics
  • Code of ethics
  • Domination
  • Genealogical discourse analysis
  • Governance
  • Organizational risk management
  • Power relationships


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