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Ethics Programs and the Paradox of Control

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2015


We analyze corporate ethics programs as control systems, arguing that how control is exercised may have pernicious consequences and be morally problematic. In particular, the control cultivated by ethics programs may weaken employees’ ability and motivation to exercise their own moral judgment, especially in novel situations. We develop this argument first by examining how organization theorists analyze control as an instrument of management coordination, and by addressing the political implications of control. We discuss coercive and enabling control as variations that help account for the distinction between compliance-based ethics programs and values-based ethics programs. We then explore three potential drawbacks of ethics programs: the specter of indoctrination, a politicization of ethics, and an atrophy of competence. Ethics programs that rely on coercive control may undermine their own effectiveness at stemming misbehavior.

Special Section: The Ethics of Organizational Ethics Initiatives
Copyright © Business Ethics Quarterly 2007

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