An examination of the ethical commitment of professional accountants to auditor independence

Journal of Business Ethics 64 (2):169 - 193 (2006)
This research explores the relationship between work context and professional ethics. Specifically, we analyze through an online survey of professional accountants the degree to which changing work conditions have altered individual accountants’ commitment to the core professional value of auditor independence. We argue that certain changes in the condition of work have made some categories of accountants more susceptible to the logic of commercialism rather than the logic of professionalism. We find general support for this argument. We observe that accountants working outside of public accounting have a higher commitment to independence than do accountants working in the context of public accounting firms. We further observe that accountants in large international accounting firms (i.e. the “Big Four”) report lower commitment to auditor independence than do others in public accounting. And we observe that older accountants report stronger commitment to auditor independence. One finding, however, contradicts our general thesis. We find that commitment to one’s client does not necessarily result in a loss of commitment to the core professional value of independence. We conclude that changes in the context of work have contributed to the demise of ethics among professional accountants and suggest that further research be done to elaborate the relationship between client commitment and independence commitment.
Keywords auditor independence  commercialism  client commitment  ethical commitment  organizational change  regulation  work
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