Journal of Business Ethics 66 (2-3):241-251 (2006)

Christopher Michaelson
University of St. Thomas, Minnesota
It has become common for business practitioners and management scholars to distinguish between compliance and ethics. According to the conventional distinction as expressed in Paine’s formulation of Integrity Strategy, compliance is ordinarily a necessary but insufficient condition for ethics. Now that this distinction has been institutionalized in the most significant judicial, legislative, and regulatory developments in American business conduct management since the Enron failure, it is worth asking whether the current emphasis on ethics represents progress. Does it make logical and practical sense to impose ethics as a compliance requirement, or have we come full circle? I argue that assertions of organizational ethical progress, usually involving an increase in the number and or severity of compliance restrictions, do not get the conventional distinction quite right. Moreover, under the consensus distinction, there can be no such thing as organizational ethical progress. However, our ordinary ways of talking about business conduct management often betray logical confusions about the ethics–compliance relationship. While the metaphors we employ – “higher standards,” “raising the bar,” “gray areas,” and “crossing the line,” etc. – perform a worthwhile function as standards for external evaluation of business conduct, they also have a tendency to limit and impoverish our conception of what it is to be ethical. The idea that ethics matters is fundamental to Integrity Strategy’s implicit claim, consistent with conventional wisdom and moral theory, that the objective of responsible conduct cannot be achieved solely by imposing from outside what is required but must also appeal to what is desired.
Keywords Philosophy   Ethics   Economic Growth   Management
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Reprint years 2006
DOI 10.1007/s10551-005-5589-8
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References found in this work BETA

Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.Immanuel Kant - 1785/2002 - Oxford University Press.
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Citations of this work BETA

From Chain Liability to Chain Responsibility.Rob Van Tulder, Jeroen Van Wijk & Ans Kolk - 2009 - Journal of Business Ethics 85 (S2):399 - 412.
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SMEs and the Fallacy of Formalising CSR.Yves Fassin - 2008 - Business Ethics: A European Review 17 (4):364-378.

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