The internal significance of codes of conduct in retail companies

Business Ethics, the Environment and Responsibility 21 (3):263-275 (2012)
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This paper focuses on the significance of codes of conduct (CoCs) in the internal work context of two retail companies. A stepwise approach is used. First, the paper identifies in what way employees use and refer to CoCs internally. Second, the function and relevance of CoCs inside the two companies are identified. Third, the paper explains why CoCs tend to function in the identified ways. In both cases, the CoCs are clearly decoupled in the sense that they do not concern the immediate work context of the employees. Counter-intuitively, this facilitates the process of establishing the CoCs. Even though the CoCs are not directly relevant for the employees, they are accepted and embraced with regard to contents, focus and function. Above all, the CoCs seem to confirm and even strengthen employee identity. On the basis of these observations, it is suggested that CoCs should not only be valued in light of their direct organisational consequences or lack of such consequences. The issue is not just whether CoCs are decoupled or not. Rather, it is argued that researchers should consider more closely a two-level analysis that takes into account not only the concrete application of CoCs but also their function and meaning. An implication of this is that what might appear as a decoupled code cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the ‘core’ business processes of the organisation



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