The Impact of Moral Reasoning and Retaliation on Whistle-Blowing: New Zealand Evidence

Journal of Business Ethics 89 (1):37-57 (2009)
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This study examined experimentally the effect of retaliation strength and accounting students’ level of moral reasoning, on their propensity to blow the whistle (PBW) when faced with a serious wrongdoing. Fifty-one senior accounting students enrolled in an auditing course offered by a large New Zealand university participated in the study. Participants responded to three hypothetical whistle-blowing scenarios and completed an instrument that measured moral reasoning (Welton et al., 1994, Accounting Education . International Journal (Toronto, Ont.) 3 (1), 35–50) on one of two conditions – i.e., strong or weak retaliation for whistle-blowing. Consistent with the results of Arnold and Ponemon (1991, Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 10 , 1–15) this study found that the strength of retaliation and participants’ moral reasoning level positively affected their PBW. Unlike results reported in Arnold and Ponemon (1991, Auditing; A Journal of Practice and Theory 10 , 1–15) a significant interaction effect of moral reasoning level and retaliation on participants’ PBW was not found. However, results showed that a participant’s gender has a significant effect on the relationship between his or her moral reasoning level and PBW. These results support the need to improve ethical awareness through accounting education and to increase protection for whistle-blowing (Miceli 2004, Journal of Management Inquiry 13 , 364–366). Furthermore, many participants found it difficult to take a stand when serious wrongdoing is discovered. Therefore, policymakers must exercise caution when placing heavy reliance on whistle-blowing, especially when whistle-blower protection processes are complex and not easily accessible, and processes to facilitate whistle-blowing may vary substantially between public and private sector organizations (Scholtens, 2003, Review of the operation of the Protected Disclosures Act 2000: Report to the Minister of State Services ).



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