Business codes of multinational firms: What do they say?

Journal of Business Ethics 50 (1):13-31 (2004)
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Abstract

Business codes are an oft-cited management instrument. But how common are codes among multinationals? And what is their content? In an unprecedented study, the codes of the largest corporations in the world have been collected and thoroughly analyzed. This paper presents the results of that study. Of the two hundred largest companies in the world, 52.5% have a code. More than half of these codes describe company responsibilities regarding quality of products and services (67%), adherence to local laws and regulations (57%) and the protection of the natural environment (56%). Many codes make reference to principles governing stakeholder relations (e.g. transparency (55%), honesty (50%) and fairness (45%)), corporate core values (e.g. teamwork (43%)), appropriate conduct among employees (e.g. discrimination (44%) and intimidation (43%)) and treatment of company property by employees (e.g. conflict of interests (52%), corruption (46%) and fraud (45%)). Monitoring compliance with the code is addressed in 52% of the codes. Based on this content study, three types of codes are distinguished: the stakeholder statute (72%), the values statement (49%) and the code of conduct (46%). The results of this inquiry present a benchmark for the evaluation and development of both individual and international business codes.

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